Norwegian railways are in the news again. These three excerpts from Today's Railways Europe magazine [reprinted with permission] discuss some recent developments.
The Nordlandsbanen (Nordland Line) from Trondheim to Bodø feels like the equivalent of the Far North Line in some ways (although it's more than two and a half times as long) so it is gratifying to see how it, and the North of Norway, features in the minds of Norwegian politicians. Narvik is currently the terminus of a different line which is mostly in Sweden, having only one station in Norway. Tromsø has no rail connection yet, Bodø to Tromsø would be around 300km in total.
In a surprising development, the campaign to extend the Nordlandsbanen towards Narvik and Tromsø received a huge boost when an alliance of left and centre parties in the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) assembled a majority to approve a resolution to bring forward planning for new railways in the far north.
The transport minister criticised the motion, claiming it will divert funds from more deserving projects and calling it irrelevant as no funds were committed. However, the resolution is highly symbolic for showing the strength of feeling over the project and the need to invest meaningfully in transport infrastructure in the far north. There may also be significance in that national elections for the Storting take place this autumn and the parties are vying to win votes in the far north.
Meanwhile things are moving on the freight front too - with the help of a new freight operating company, OnRail. The Raumabanen (Rauma Line) branch which terminates south of Trondheim at Åndalsnes and joins the main Oslo-Trondheim line at Dombås has seen the start of a new service.
This is the thought-provoking tagline on the OnRail website: "Onrail is a Norwegian railway company running the freight train between Oslo and Åndalsnes. This train replaces 10,000 lorries a year."
On the night of 25 April the first intermodal freight service operated by Onrail departed from Åndalsnes for Alnabru yard in Oslo, hauled on the non-electrified Raumabanen by leased Nordic Re-Finance (ex DSB [Danish State Railways]) diesel TMe 1509. Traction on the electrified Dovrebanen is provided by hired ex-SJ [one of the Swedish Government-owned railway companies] Class Rc4 locos.
The train carried containers from a wide range of Norwegian businesses. Previously freight operations had been rendered unviable by the threat of landslips on the Mannen mountain near Åndalsnes, which has led to extensive line closures, The long-anticipated slip occurred in late 2019, meaning the threat of further disruption has receded, but neither CargoNet nor Green Cargo were willing to restart the services they previously abandoned. OnRail has therefore filled the gap, with support from infrastructure manager Bane NOR. Onrail plans to run five train pairs a week.
The freight service on the Dombås-Åndalsnes Raumabanen revived by new freight operator OnRail founded by train driver Henning Aandal (TREU 304) has achieved remarkable success within weeks of startup on 25 April, with an average of eight of the 12 wagons loaded. On 10 May the train was full and sold out. Aandal attributes this to listening to customers and negotiating good paths with infrastructure manager Bane NOR for overnight departures in both directions, that are more convenient for shippers.
The previous services provided by CargoNet and Green Cargo had daytime departures southbound, which often ran less than 50% loaded. OnRail is ready to launch a second daily service if it can attract southbound fish traffic and is in talks with suppliers with the aim of taking more traffic off the average 500 daily lorry loads heading south. A mixture of former Danish diesels have been use on the train, with borrowed Class MZ locos standing in for the Nordic Re-finance-owned Class TMe while they are being repainted.