Sweden's infrastructure manager has replaced a regional structure with national operations and projects divisions, in a bid to focus on getting the most out of its network. Operations Director Björn Östlund explained to Chris Jackson the significance of the move

FOR THE FIRST time ever, Banverket has used its powers to 'declare' part of the Swedish network as operating in excess of capacity, ahead of the forthcoming timetable change in December. Under national and European legislation, this gives the infrastructure manager the right to impose social and operational requirements above commercial considerations when allocating paths where there are more applications than capacity to accommodate them.

Not surprisingly, the most critical piece of railway infrastructure in Sweden is the notorious 'wasp's waist', where inter-city, suburban and freight trains must squeeze onto two tracks on the southern approach to Stockholm Central station. But Banverket's Operations Director Björn Östlund says it reflects a growing capacity problem on much of the national rail network.

Reforms continue

Sweden has been steadily restructuring its railway industry since taking the landmark decision to separate infrastructure from operations almost 20 years ago. Infrastructure manager Banverket remains a government agency, operating on a socio-economic basis, whilst train operations have steadily been liberalised, first with the introduction of open-access freight and regional passenger concessions, and then through the break-up of the former state railway SJ into smaller components. Östlund believes that reform 'has started to work' in terms of creating an open market for rail transport.

'Sweden may be going a bit slower than other countries, but there has been no backlash. Reform is still in progress, but there is no going back and there is still a firm political commitment across all parties. I believe the impact for the country as a whole has been very positive.

'There is a positive public feeling about rail today, thanks to concerns about the environment and growing road congestion. More and more people are choosing rail over other modes, because its performance is more predictable.'

A strong economy has seen steady growth in both freight and passenger traffic on rail, with passenger-km and tonne-km both setting new records in 2006. Rail's share of the passenger market grew slightly last year, while the freight share remained steady in a growing market. Östlund says this was a creditable performance, given that rail's 24% share of the Swedish freight market is already significantly higher than in most of its European neighbours. Nevertheless, the government would still like to see more traffic moving by rail.

Today there are around 16 freight operators and between five and 10 'active' passenger operators. But in the bidding for train paths Östlund says there are around 30 different 'authorised applicants' for the next timetable period, as some local authorities choose to apply directly for paths which they then pass on to their contract operators.

The biggest capacity conflicts between the competing demands of inter-city, local passenger and freight services inevitably occur around the three largest cities – Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö. Traffic into Malmö has increased substantially since the opening of the Øresund fixed link, but there are half a dozen other cities and areas where local pinch points are emerging. 'We are seeing the overload mostly around the cities', confirms Östlund. 'It has been coming steadily – we can see it more and more now.'

According to Banverket Director General Per-Olof Granbom, the increase in traffic and growing capacity problems have made the rail network more vulnerable to disruption, with the result that the infrastructure manager missed its performance targets for 2006. As a result, Banverket, SJ and regional transport authority Storstockholms Lokaltrafik have launched a joint action plan to address problems in the critical Stockholm area, tackling timetabling, traffic control, infrastructure and rolling stock issues with a view to developing a co-ordinated investment programme to tackle the bottlenecks. Granbom would like to see this initiative repeated for other city regions.

Higher traffic levels also led to an overall deterioration in the quality of the network in 2006, both as a result of higher utilisation and of the increasing inability to secure access to the infrastructure for maintenance work.

Restructuring raises the game

When he took over as Director General last year, Granbom felt the time was right to take a fundamental look at the way Banverket operates. 'The old organisation had been very successful, but as a long-time railwayman, he felt that we needed a new structure if we were to lift our game to a new level', comments Östlund. The result was the introduction of a new management structure from February 1 2007.

Previously, Banverket had operated through five regions, which each combined infrastructure maintenance, traffic management and new construction projects, supported by the headquarters team and a separate division for traffic control. 'This worked fine in terms of local knowledge, but it meant that for new projects in particular, each region had to develop its own skills, and sometimes re-learn lessons that had already been addressed elsewhere', admits Östlund. 'Today is a completely new situation', he adds, explaining that there are widely different issues facing the operations and investment businesses.

Granbom summed up his strategy with a simple philosophy: 'first we have to cope with today's traffic, and then we build for tomorrow'. This is the basis for Banverket's new structure, split between an Operations Division focused on day-to-day operations and traffic management, maintenance and renewals – the customer interface – and an Investment Division building for the next generation and adding capacity where necessary.

'It is not a fundamental change, but it has made a big difference for us', says Östlund. 'More and more we are sharing knowledge across the country', which he feels has been very positive for his Operations Division. Meanwhile, the projects team is working on a 'very long-term activity', given that obtaining environmental and planning consent for new construction is a lengthy process.

For Operations, it is very much 'one division, one goal, one priority', he says, which is 'serving the customer'. After six months, he feels that the organisation is settling down and meeting all the demands placed on it.

Further changes are envisaged within other parts of the organisation, where the number of business units has been rationalised. In the past Banverket had a Production Division responsible for in-house maintenance and an Industry Division undertaking new construction.

At a higher level, the government is currently reviewing whether Banverket and the parallel roads administration Vägverket should retain their business units, or whether these should be restructured as separate state-owned companies. But in either case Östlund believes such a change is unlikely to have a major impact on the way Banverket operates.

New charging structure

With effect from the December 2006 timetable, a new Railways Act implementing tighter rules on capacity allocation means that the infrastructure manager has to publish in advance details of all major engineering work and blockades, for both maintenance and renewals.

Östlund says that these requirements have been reflected through changes to Banverket's annual Network Statement. He believes that including full details of all the available timetable slots and the provision of related services will make the Network Statement easier to use.

Under the Railways Act, responsibility for setting track access charges has been transferred from the government to Banverket. Under revised regulations to ensure non-discriminatory access to the network, charges must be based on marginal costing and Banverket is also working to develop a structure that rewards good environmental performance as well as reduced wear and tear on the infrastructure.

Östlund admits that there is still more work to do on refining the new charging structure, particularly in relation to keeping rail competitive with other modes. Some years ago the government reduced freight access charges to enable rail to compete with heavier lorries. Confirming that 'the government today has expressed a strong will for moving towards a “user-pays” strategy', he believes that the introduction of higher lorry taxes could give Banverket more headroom to develop a tailored range of track access charges. At present, access charges cover about 10% of Banverket's annual expenditure on operations, maintenance and renewals, with the remainder largely funded through direct government grant.

The Swedish Rail Agency Järnvägsstyrelsen is responsible for safety regulation on the rail network, including the operating rules, known as the Traffic Regulation Instructions. The current rules were drawn up at the time of separation, and Östlund says that there is growing recognition that they are no longer adequate to meet the demands of a deregulated market. Banverket has been participating in work to revise the TRIs, which has been in progress for some time, and he is hopeful that a revised safety regime will be in place by the spring of 2009.

Maintenance out to tender

Ever since it was formed in 1988, Banverket has put major infrastructure renewals work out to competitive tender. Routine maintenance was originally all kept in-house, but over recent years there has been a policy of putting more work out to tender on a line-by-line basis, although the in-house Production division has retained a substantial proportion of the work.

Östlund insists that contracting out maintenance is not about ceding responsibility, emphasising that 'managing the infrastructure is part of our core business'. The introduction of competition is about benchmarking costs, fostering innovation and improving quality, he explains.

He estimates that around 55% of maintenance is now managed on a contract basis, and the remainder will go out to tender over the next four or five years. A key element will be the adoption of availability-based contracts, whereby the contractors 'get paid for keeping the railway open, and not for fixing it when it breaks down', with bonuses for improvement. This will give them the opportunity 'to innovate and make money' by delivering a more reliable network for more of the time.

Inevitably, there is a conflict of interest between maintenance and operations, with the potential to minimise costs by giving the engineers easier access to the tracks in preference to train operators. Östlund says the rules on maintenance access rights are clearly laid out in the enhanced Network Statement, and bringing responsibility for operations and maintenance together in one division will ensure that Banverket can manage this trade-off as efficiently as possible.

'Of course, there will be different answers for different routes', he adds, noting that in Stockholm it is generally only possible to get access to the commuter network overnight. On the main lines to the north, however, the night hours are busy with long-distance freight but there is a quiet window in the middle of the day.

Rolling investment plan

As well as managing existing enhancement projects, the Investment Division is largely responsible for developing and implementing Banverket's rolling 10-year investment plan. Work is currently getting underway on the 2010-19 plan, which is being led by a small team in Granbom's office.

Banverket has identified three main priority areas for investment over the next decade. These are:

  • Regional development and growth, particularly around the big cities;
  • Ensuring the functioning of the big three cities by keeping commuters and freight on the move, encouraging modal shift to reduce congestion and addressing capacity bottlenecks;
  • Combatting climate change by making rail more efficient and more attractive to encourage modal shift.

'If we cannot invest in future capacity, the positive growth trend will stop, because we cannot get more trains on the tracks', warns Granbom in his latest report to the government. Östlund comments that 'as a government body, we have been clear and positive, putting money in the right places.'

Rail freight is a key priority. As well as the 30 tonne axleloads now permitted on the Malmbanan iron ore route (RG 6.07 p369, other trunk lines have already been upgraded to 25 tonnes under an ongoing programme. Passing loops are being lengthened and traction power supplies upgraded to permit the operation of longer trains, and work is in hand to enhance the already-generous loading gauge.

Banverket has identified intermodal as a high priority for growth. The Swedish government has recently launched a study of national port capacity, which is being co-ordinated with Banverket's own review of the location, financing and capacity of rail-served intermodal terminals across the country.

European railway policy is having 'more and more' impact on Banverket's activities, confirms Östlund, particularly in terms of opening up markets and providing additional funding for some projects. Interoperability will be a key issue in the next plan period, and the infrastructure manager is working on a strategy to roll out ERTMS across much of the core network by 2020. Negotiations are underway with the railway authorities in Denmark and Norway to develop an integrated ERTMS strategy for the Nordic region.

Östlund admits that the introduction of ERTMS poses 'a lot of questions over finance and implementation' with limited payback during the transition phase. Although there are potential capacity benefits in the longer term, the transition stage might actually reduce capacity, whilst diverting resources from other works that could accommodate growth. Nevertheless, Banverket has been selected as leader for the development of ETCS-R for regional lines, and a test installation 'will be ready in a couple of years'.

Projects in progress

There has been some adverse comment in the past few years that Banverket had been forced to scale back or postpone some of the major projects in its 2007-15 plan. This followed a review in 2004 which found there would not be sufficient funding to meet all commitments.

Östlund says this was due to a combination of higher than anticipated inflation in construction costs and a degree of uncertainty over the true cost of projects still in the early stages of development when the last plan was agreed. But he insists that nothing has been cancelled – only postponed.

According to Östlund, 'the revised plan for 2008-15 is valid' and funding for committed work is secure. Work is pushing ahead on the Citytunneln cross-city link under Malmö, where one of the TBMs achieved a mid-bore breakthrough in August (RG 9.07 p527) and the 17 km route is on course for completion by 2011.

The hotly-debated Citybanan deep-level suburban rail tunnel under Stockholm, which will provide much-needed additional capacity, is now back on course following a review of financing options by the government and city administration earlier this year. There may be some modifications to the detailed design, but Östlund says the government 'has given an emphatic “yes” to the project'. Nevertheless, completion is not envisaged before 2017 at the earliest.

The biggest new line project is the 190 km Botniabanan between Nyland and Umeå (RG 12.04 p846), which will carry both 250 km/h passenger trains and heavy freight to and from the far north. The first section of the new line is already being used for test running, as Banverket's pilot project for ETCS Level 2. Östlund is confident that the route will open as scheduled in 2010, even though planning approval is still awaited for a short section near Umeå.

Meanwhile, upgrading of the West Coast main line between Göteborg and Malmö continues despite numerous delays. Work has resumed on the controversial 8·5 km Hallandsås tunnel using new tunnelling methods, after a lengthy interruption caused by complex geological conditions.

Making the case for rail

One of Banverket's responsibilities is to take leadership of the railway sector in Sweden on behalf of the government. This includes promoting research projects and reviewing environmental initiatives, and Banverket is working with the University of Stockholm and Bombardier on the Gröna Tåget programme to develop the next generation of high speed trains (p621).

Other research projects include work on the wheel/rail and train/catenary interfaces, plus the development of more automated infrastructure maintenance processes that will improve track quality whilst minimising possession times and maintenance costs.

On environmental grounds, Östlund says the government is keen to see more traffic moved with electric traction rather than diesel, although this is fairly academic as most core routes are already electrified. Banverket is working with the train operators to raise rail's profile by stressing its potential to reduce pollution, but the core aim is to 'enable the possibility of carrying more traffic by rail'. Which, of course, 'brings us back to the capacity question again'.

  • CAPTION: Line capacity is becoming critical for Banverket, both on long single-track main lines and in the urban areas, as freight and passenger traffic continues to rise
  • CAPTION: Banverket's plan to relieve the congested 'wasp's waist' in Stockholm involves routing suburban trains through a cross-city tunnel
  • CAPTION: Banverket's largest infrastructure project is the construction of the 190 km Botniabanan.between Nyland and Umeå, which is scheduled to open in 2010
  • CAPTION: The first section of the 250 km/h Botniabanan is being used as Sweden's testing ground for ETCS Level 2

Table I. Sweden's rail network in figures

2004 2005 2006
Network length, route-km 9 782 9 782 9 782
Electrified, route-km 7 190 7 190 7 190
Network length, track-km 14 362 14 362 14 378
25 tonne axleload, track-km 2 923 4 258 4 525
Larger loading gauge, track-km 2 847 2 913 3 080
Banverket employees 6 535 6 503 6 551
Trains operated on network 770 303 746 015 768 035
Passenger train-km, million 77·0 78·8 80·0
Freight train-km, million 41·9 43·4 44·0
Passenger-km, billion 8·7 8·9 9·6
Freight tonne-km billion 20·9 21·7 22·0

Table II. Banverket finances, SKr m

Turnover 2004 2005 2006
Administration 757 742 745
Network provision 11 268 12 470 12 919
Production and external sales 1 844 2 313 2 891
Sectoral duties 576 569 590
Total turnover 14 445 16 094 17 145
Operations, maintenance & renewals
Operations management 599 609 645
Maintenance 2 701 2 703 2 666
Renewals investment 1 305 1 534 1 565
Other -24 -97 15
Total OMR expenditure 4 581 4 749 4 891
Track access charge income 426 472 491

La capacité est la solution alors que Banverket monte au cran supérieur

Le gestionnaire d'infrastructure de Suède a remplacé une structure régionale par des divisions nationales des opérations et des projets, dans une tentative de tirer le meilleur parti de son réseau. Björn Östlund, directeur des opérations, explique à Chris Jackson comment la réunion de la responsabilité des opérations et de la maintenance au sein d'une même division va rendre possible l'optimisation des deux éléments et identifier les besoins d'investissement pour éliminer les goulets d'étranglement. Avec plusieurs projets majeurs déjà en cours, Banverket commence à préparer maintenant son plan d'investissements pour 2010-19, qui se concentrera sur la création de la capacité nécessaire afin d'atteindre les objectifs socio-économiques plus larges du gouvernement

Kapazität ist der Schlüssel um Banverket auf die nächste Stufe zu bringen

Die schwedische Infrastruktur-Unternehmung hat eine regionale Struktur durch nationale Betriebs- und Projekt-Divisionen abgelöst, mit dem Ziel das Maximum aus dem Netz heraus zu holen. Betriebsdirektor Björn Östlund erklärte Chris Jackson, wie das Zusammenführen von Betrieb und Unterhalt in eine einzige Division eine gegenseitige Optimierung ermöglichen soll, und feststellen soll, wo Investitionen notwendig sind, um Flaschenhälse zu beseitigen. Mit mehreren Grossprojekten am Laufen, beginnt Banverket nun die Vorbereitung des Investitionsplans 2010-19, welcher sich auf die Bereitstellung der Kapazitäten konzentriert, welche für die Erreichung der durch die Regierung gesetzten sozio-ökonomischen Ziele notwendig sind

La clave está en la capacidad para un Banverket en marcha

El gestor de infraestructuras ferroviarias de Suecia ha sustituido una estructura regional por divisiones nacionales de operaciones y proyectos en un intento por conseguir el máximo rendimiento a la red. El director de operaciones Björn Östlund explicó a Chris Jackson cómo centralizar toda la responsabilidad de operaciones y mantenimiento en una sola división permitirá la optimización de ambos elementos e identificará las áreas que requieren inversión con el fin de eliminar los cuellos de botella. Con varios grandes proyectos en marcha, Banverket prepara ahora el plan de inversión 2010-2019, cuyo objetivo se centra en ofrecer la capacidad necesaria para responder a los objetivos socioeconómicos más amplios del gobierno nacional