SWEDEN’S rail infrastructure authority Banverket reported on December 9 that it would not be worth completing the heavily-delayed Hallandsåsen tunnel on the West Coast trunk line. Finishing the twin 8·5 km bores would require at least SKr4·3bn, way above the commercial and social benefits to be gained. Even a single-track tunnel would require over SKr3bn, but this would leave a bottleneck and not deliver the advantages envisaged.

Banverket has thus passed the buck to the government, which must now decide what to do. The choices are to carry on, study a new tunnel for completion by 2004, or abandon the scheme. An option exists to double the existing line over the Hallandsåsen ridge for passenger services, and route freight via Markaryd and Håssleholm, but this line would need upgrading at a cost of SKr200m to SKr660m.

So far about SKr2bn has been spent against an estimate in 1991 of SKr1·2bn. By 1993 it was clear that the project was in serious trouble, prompting the engineers to change the boring methods. To try and regain lost time, a shaft was sunk in the centre of the alignment to open up two more faces, but water ingress was seriously impeding progress. More alarms sounded when a gel used to stabilise water-bearing rocks was found to be toxic, polluting local water supplies. Construction was halted in October 1997 - and as the same substance was being used in the 13·8 km Romeriks tunnel on Oslo’s Gardermoen airport line, work stopped there too. The Norwegian government became involved, with the result that airport trains have yet to start running through their tunnel.

Meanwhile, Swedish State Railways has been fined SKr8m for anti-competitive practices. A court ruling on December 8 found that, in an attempt to undercut private-sector operator BK Tåg, SJ in 1993 bid so low a price to run local passenger services that it would not have been able to cover operating costs. The court also felt that the low bid discouraged other private-sector operators from bidding. BK Tåg, which still runs two local passenger services, is now seeking damages from SJ.