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TRAIN TRAVEL

SJ to reintroduce high-speed trains between Oslo and Stockholm

The number of daily departures between Stockholm and Oslo will increase to five during the week, three of which will be express trains, Sweden's state-owned train operator SJ announced Tuesday.

Swedish train
SJ's booking site crashed once tickets for Christmas were released. Photo: SJ

For the first time in five years, there will be five daily train departures between the Norwegian and Swedish capitals, Sweden’s SJ has announced.  

The change comes as work on the train lines on the Norwegian leg of the route – which have been ongoing for multiple years – is close to being complete, the Swedish company said in a press release.

Today, there are two direct trains between Oslo and Stockholm on certain days, while there is one or none on others.

From December 11th, however, the frequency will increase, as the work which has lasted for five years will be finished. Tickets for the expanded service between Oslo and Stockholm go on sale from November 9th. Customers can purchase them via the company’s website or in its app.

As part of the expanded timetable between the two cities, SJ will run five departures on weekdays in each direction, three on Saturdays and four on Sundays, the Swedish company wrote on its website.

“More than half of the departures will be by express train, that is, fast and comfortable trains where you can choose between multiple classes. With the fast trains, you can travel between the capitals in just over five hours,” Martin Drakenberg, business manager at SJ, said in the announcement.

However, in the summer of 2023, traffic between Stockholm and Oslo will be affected by the planned track work between Laxå and Kristinehamn.

While the work lasts, the trains will be rerouted and have a longer journey time. More detailed information about this will be published in the spring.

“After a long time of track works on the route, this will actually be the last major work. We are very happy that we can now make long-term investments in this important and popular train line,” Drakenberg notes.

Expanded timetable may cut down on flights between the two cities

Last month, a joint study by the Swedish Transport Agency and Norwegian Railway Directorate found that better train links between the two cities could save around half a million journeys by plane.

That study referred to a potential service that could cut the journey time between the two capitals to under four hours. Still, SJ is hopeful that the increased departures between Stockholm and Oslo would help cut emissions. 

“You save around 100 kilos of Co2 per person, per round trip, by choosing the train over the plane. There are significant emissions if you think about the many flights that go between Oslo and Stockholm,” SJ Norge boss Rikke Lind told business news site E24

“We are an overly flight-happy nation. Now Norwegian companies really have to take a step forward. We must create a culture among companies in Norway where people choose climate-smart travel. It will be an important part of the climate cuts in the companies’ accounts,” she added. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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