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TRAIN TRAVEL

Stockholm to Oslo train links ‘would save half a million plane journeys’

A faster train service between Stockholm and Oslo could save half a million journeys by plane, a joint study carried out by the Swedish Transport Agency and Norwegian Railway Directorate has found. 

Pictured is a train in Oslo.
A train comes into Oslo Central Station. Photo: Magnus Engo/Unsplash

A joint study between the Transport Agency and Norwegian Railway Directorate found that building the so called “Gränsbanen” or border railway, with new tracks linking either Lillestrøm or Ski in Norway with the Swedish town of Arvika, would cut more than an hour off the current 5 hour 13 minute journey between Stockholm and Oslo. 

As a result, the two agencies predict that more than half a million of those who fly between the two capitals every year would instead take the train, dramatically reducing carbon emissions. 

Despite this, the joint study found building the Gränsbanen alone would not provide sufficient benefits to balance out the cost — of between 20 and 45 billion Norwegian kroner (21-48bn Swedish kronor) for Lillestrøm-Arvika and 25 to 60 billion kroner (27-64bn SEK) for Ski-Arvika. 

“The cost-benefit ratio comes to -9.5bn Norwegian kroner,” Bente Bukholm, project leader for the study at the Norwegian Railway Directorate, told Sweden’s TT newswire. “But it’s pretty common that you end up with a negative cost-benefit ratio for society with big railway projects, because they are so expensive to build.

Jonas Karlsson, the chief executive of the local government-owned lobbying company Oslo-Stockholm 2.55, told The Local that the agencies themselves in their report pointed out that the elements that went into the cost-benefit ratio were far from representative, with only the Gränsbanen taken into account. 

Oslo-Stockholm 2.55 is joint-owned by three Swedish regions — Värmland, Västmanland and Örebro — and three city governments Karlstad, Västerås, and Örebro. It is pushing to bring the journey time to below three hours. 

“We have made a cost benefit analysis for the project which is positive,” Karlsson said. “The big difference is that we have looked into the benefits if you establish [a link] all the way between Stockholm and Oslo: if you make a double track on Värmlandsbanan and if you make Nobelbanan.” 

It would take building the Nobelbanan, a new track linking Örebro and Kristinehamn, to bring the journey down under three hours, something Karlsson reckons is reasonable, seeing as the two capitals are only just over 400km away from one another as the crow flies. 

They believe that such a link could replace a million air journeys a year, double as many as predicted in last week’s joint Swedish-Norwegian report. 

“The huge amount of travel that goes on between Stockholm and Oslo is mainly done by air,” he said. “Before Covid there were 22 flights a day in each direction. It was the 20th biggest air connection in the world if you look at the number of flights, and air connection had a market share of 88 percent.” 

He said that the distance was sufficiently short that there is no need for a high-speed rail link able to take trains at more than 250 km/h. Normal express trains would be able to do it in under three hours. 

He pointed that the total cost of about 65 billion kronor for all the new connections, while significant, was much less than the 325 billion kronor required for new high speed rail links proposed between Stockholm and Gothenburg and Malmö. 

Also, because it would use existing train lines, the Stockholm-Oslo link would also benefit the regions along the way and allow regional transport to be improved.

Despite the conclusion that the cost-benefit ratio was negative, Karlsson said that the joint report, as well as support from many prominent Moderate MPs, was “very positive”: 

“It said that they recommend that the governments in Sweden and Norway continue their investigation into this project, and get into traditional planning for for this, so I’m very happy for that,” he said. “I think there is a good opportunity right now.”

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TRAVEL NEWS

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Figures have revealed that routes between Oslo and Bergen and the capital and Trondheim are among the most flown in Europe, with around 20 departures a day in each direction. So why are Norwegians opting for flights over the train? 

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Flights between Oslo and Bergen and Trondheim and Oslo were the fourth and fifth busiest air routes in Europe last year, according to European data agency Eurostat. 

Around 44 daily flights between Oslo and Trondheim and 38 between Bergen and the capital took off last year, contributing to some 222,622 domestic flights in total in 2022. 

Research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that Norwegians’ flying habits contributed to twice as many C02 emissions as Swedish, German or French air passengers.

Flights between Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim account for around 20 percent of emissions caused by domestic flights within Norway, public broadcaster NRK reports.

So why are Norwegians choosing to fly between cities rather than taking the train or other means of transport? 

Climate researcher Helene Muri from NTNU said that several factors explain why domestic flights are far more popular than trains. 

First of all, she told NRK that the cost of taking a long-distance train between cities in Europe is cheaper and faster than it is in Norway. 

“The average Norwegian often has enough to travel with to be able to take a weekend trip and take these perhaps unnecessary flights. Trains in Norway are quite expensive, so when flying is cheaper and faster, you understand that people choose it,” she told NRK. 

For example, a flight between Oslo and Bergen can be completed in under an hour, while the train between Bergen and Oslo can take six to eight hours to complete. Trains to Trondheim from the capital take a similar time too. 

In some cases, such as when travelling to Tromsø from further south in Norway, a flight may be the most practical option due to Norway’s geography. 

“For example, Oslo-Tromsø is a stretch where it is not easy to find alternative means of transport,” Muri explained. 

Another reason why planes may be more attractive than trains is due to the sheer number of flights compared to trains. Recently the number of trains between Oslo and Bergen has been cut due to a lack of demand, with there typically being around four departures per day. 

In comparison, there are flight departures just over once an hour between the two biggest cities in Norway, meaning finding a flight to fit around one’s plans and itinerary is much easier. 

The popularity of flying between cities in Norway comes despite train travel contributing 12.2 grams of C02 per passenger per kilometre to the 236 grams of C02 emitted by planes per traveller and kilometre

Muri said that to entice more travellers onto trains, journey speeds and onboard amenities would need to be improved. 

“The time it takes to take a train between cities in Norway has actually increased. It takes longer now than it did before. It’s a bit remarkable and takes things in a bit of a wrong direction,” she said. 

“Increased capacity, increased speed and the availability of stable broadband in the trains are measures that can help shift traffic from the air onto the railway network,” she added. 

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