INTRO: This year Swedish State Railways’ operating divisions have become independent companies, marking another stage in the restructuring of Sweden’s railways. Rail’s share of freight hauled over more than 100 km beats that in all other EU countries, and passenger traffic is at a record high. Stig Larsson* offers an independent view

BYLINE: * Stig Larsson is Honorary Chairman, International Union of Railways, and former President of Swedish State Railways

SWEDEN’S NATIONAL rail network was radically restructured in 1988, introducing the concept of separate infrastructure and operations to Europe. The idea was seized on by European politicians as a means of forcing national railways to compete for business on their own tracks, and subsequent directives formalised this policy. The way was clear for open access, and while the separation concept was not universally welcomed, in Sweden it has been made to work. This is in no small measure due to the government’s strong support.

This support, coupled with efficiency improvements and big investment programmes in infrastructure, stations and rolling stock, have yielded impressive results. The share of freight moving by rail in Sweden over 100 km or more is 23%, the highest among EU railways, and with a population of 8·5 million people passenger journeys have now reached 125 million/year, an all-time high. At the same time, rationalisation within SJ has reduced the number of personnel by 50%.

The process of restructuring was taken a stage further on January 1 this year, when the operating divisions of SJ, the dominant operator, were divided into independent state-owned companies: