INTRO: Construction of new tracks through the western suburbs of Oslo will relieve the biggest bottleneck on the Norwegian network

DEEP IN THE hills to the southwest of the Norwegian capital, contractors are hard at work boring rock tunnels 2·7 km and 3·6 km long. They will form part of the 19·5 km quadrupling from Skøyen to Asker due to be completed in 2011, which is Jernbaneverket’s principal investment project for the next few years. According to Director General Steinar Killi, the NKr6·8bn scheme is the largest single on-shore infrastructure project in Norway.

The Oslo - Asker line is currently the biggest bottleneck on the network. Adding both directions together, 782 trains a day use Oslo’s Sentral station, which is fed from the east by seven tracks. Of these, 520 are funnelled through the double-track cross-city tunnel to Skøyen, where many local services turn back. But 340 trains must use the line onwards to Asker, with fast trains and three airport expresses an hour squeezed between local services calling at the 10 intermediate stations.

Given the very high proportion of single track on the network, Killi says that timings of local services at the outer ends of the country are directly driven by the infrastructure manager’s ability to path trains through the capital’s western suburbs. He believes the cross-Oslo core is ’probably the heaviest-trafficked double-track line in Europe’.

Based on the successful separation of fast and slow trains following completion of the Romeriks tunnel to the east of the city, the solution is to build a second pair of fast tracks to the west. Because of the density of development, these will also run in tunnel for much of the way, surfacing to serve the rebuilt station at Sandvika en route.

Work on the 9·5 km between Sandvika and Asker began in 2001 at a cost of NKr3·7bn, and this section is due to be completed in 2005, along with the reconstruction of Asker station. The second phase will see the reconstruction of Lysaker station and a 1·8 km section of line in 2005-08 at a cost of NKr660m. Boring of a 7 km tunnel between Lysaker and Sandvika is scheduled for 2007-10 and will cost NKr1·7bn. Quadrupling of the final 2·1 km between Lysaker and Skøyen is currently scheduled to start in 2009.

Strategic planning

In May 2003 JBV completed its latest 10-year strategic plan. ’Our obligation to ministers is to prepare long-term plans and budgets for maintenance and development of the infrastructure, including stations’, explains Killi. ’Our plans include an optimum budget and priorities within the limits set by the ministry.’ JBV and the road administration Statens Vegvesen must each prepare a 10-year plan every four years, together with a more-detailed plan for the next four years. When it comes to prioritising schemes, Killi says that JBV can do pretty much what it wants. ’We are free to set our own proposals within the budget limits, and the ministry tends to follow our suggestions nearly 100%’.

In the latest 10-year plan, the ministry envisages an investment budget of NKr13bn for 2006-15, with JBV proposing two alternatives calling for NKr25bn and ’unlimited priority’. The NKr25bn option would require a 20% increase in the total annual budget, effectively doubling the proportion available for investment. The unlimited option would allow JBV to pursue as many projects as it could manage.

If JBV gets its requested NKr25bn, the extra funding would mainly go on urban projects around the four big cities: Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger. Killi says cost-benefit analysis has shown that these projects would all be ’profitable for society’. He notes that the road agency wants to invest in the same corridors, ’but their schemes have a negative benefit’, which ’puts rail in a very good position to argue for the extra funds’. Higher rail investment, combined with parking restrictions and road pricing ’could make rail traffic very attractive and profitable’, he believes.

However, Killi observes wryly that the 2001-05 plan included more work than is actually being achieved. Planning delays and other issues mean that only around 70% of the planned investment has been funded. Although the plans run for 10 and four years, JBV’s actual spending budget is allocated one year at a time, which Killi feels is a big constraint.

Work in progress

Over the past few years JBV has completed much upgrading on the main lines, in preparation for the operation of tilting trains. These largely focused on safety issues such as signal spacing and level crossing protection. Killi says the programme has been completed, but owing to problems with the trains, they are not running at speeds above 160 km/h at present. NSB hopes to restore 200 km/h tilt operation with the June 2004 timetable change.

Since 1996 JBV has completed six major improvement projects on the trunk lines leading out of Oslo, and one capacity expansion scheme on the Bergen line (Table I). However, Killi says the long-distance routes ’are not our major priority’. In the next four-year plan ’the priority for investment is to increase capacity in the Oslo area’. He expects Asker - Skøyen to absorb almost all of the budget, apart from NKr1·5bn for network-wide development of GSM-R, but planning is underway for further improvements and some quadrupling on the Østfold line heading southeast from the capital.

In the longer term, JBV is looking at extending double-track north from Gardermoen to Hamar on the Dovrebanen main line to the north. Further upgrading is planned for the Vestfold inter-city route to Skien, with a possible cut-off to shorten the distance between Larvik and Porsgrunn and make the railway more competitive with a recently-opened motorway. Consultation has also started on the so-called Grenlandsbanen between Porsgrunn and Skorstøl, which would connect the Vestfold and Sørland main lines. Costed at NKr3·8bn, the 59 km cut-off would reduce Oslo - Kristiansand journey times from 4h 38min to 3h 15min.

Private finance initiative

The other major project in the pipeline is the Jaeren line upgrading in Stavanger. JBV has recently completed a feasibility study for harnessing private finance through a public-private partnership, known in Norwegian as OPS. ’Our new transport minister cannot get extra money out of the finance ministry, but is very keen to see the Jaerenbanen project go ahead’, says Killi.

The idea is to double-track 14·5 km eastwards from Stavanger to Sandnes to permit a more intensive local service, and to build a new freight terminal at Ganddal which would allow the old city-centre facilities to be redeveloped. Killi believes there only is a limited timeframe for the scheme, as the whole area is being redeveloped. ’If we cannot build the new line within two or three years, it will impact on the whole land use plan.’

’In our opinion OPS could be realistic; the project is large enough to be of interest for tendering to European construction groups. But I am not too optimistic that it will be settled. The government says - and I agree - there is no shortage of public funding, as the country is very rich. The real problem is that we have too few people, so the finance ministry is very cautious about the level of public spending because of the risks of inflation.’ In addition, an OPS project would require a long-term contractual commitment by the state which conflicts with JBV’s annual budget process.

CAPTION: A Class 69 suburban EMU picks its way through Sandvika, where two new viaducts are under construction to carry the quadrupled line over a river in the town centre

CAPTION: After flanking the existing local tracks through Sandvika, the new fast lines will diverge into the first tunnel through a cut-and-cover dive-under junction

CAPTION: To facilitate construction of the cut-and-cover tunnel on the northern approach to Asker, a listed building overlooking the station had to be lifted clear of the worksite (left); it will be returned following completion of the work

CAPTION: Between the two main tunnels, the new fast tracks on the Sandvika - Asker section will meet the existing sharply-curved tracks (left of photo) southwest of Billingstad

TABLE: Table I. Major infrastructure projects completed by JBV since 1996

Line Project Length Completed Cost NKr m

Østfold Double-tracking, Ski - Sandbukta 33 km 1996 1615

Østfold Double-tracking Såstad - Haug 7 km 2000 530

Oslo area Expansion of Nationaltheatret station - 1999 915

Oslo area Quadrupling and remodelling of Skøyen station - 1998 270

Vestfold Double-tracking Kobbervik - Sande - Holm 13 km 1998 950

Vestfold Passing loop at Nykirke 2 km 2002 120

Bergen Passing loop inside Gråskallen tunnel 2 km 1999 270