STRING politicians call for urgent action: Norway must connect to the green infrastructure towards Europe

Jan 24, 2024 | Infrastructure, Rail

That was the message from the Governing Mayor of Oslo and STRING politician, Eirik Lae Solberg, at the co-hosted STRING event at the Swedish Embassy in Oslo last week, focused on the urgent need for green transport infrastructure between Norway and Sweden, which gathered a competent panel of leading business leaders, politicians and train operators. 

The Governing Mayor of Oslo, Eirik Lae Solberg, spoke at last week’s top leader event at the Swedish Embassy in Oslo, co-organised by STRING and the Norwegian-Swedish Chamber of Commerce, as well as Oslo-Stockholm 2.55. Solberg stressed the importance of an urgent and radical improvement of the railway section between Oslo and Gothenburg, pointing out how four pivotal areas entirely depend on the establishment of a competitive, reliable and fast railway connection – not least for goods transport: Trade and industry, climate goals, foreign affairs, as well as national and international security all hang on on the realisation of a game-changing upgrade to the Oslo-Gothenburg line.

“I would go so far as to call it shameful that train service to Gothenburg and Copenhagen is so defective. The companies have to calculate both time, price and the climate footprint of what they produce. Good access to an efficient rail solution for freight is a competitive advantage. But that advantage turns into a disadvantage for companies in the Oslo region for as long as we do not act on a better infrastructure.”

Highlighting the importance of a green transport corridor for goods, Solberg stressed that it is essential for Norwegian exports to remain competitive. The sub-optimal train-stretch between Oslo and Gothenburg, where 60 % is single track, is a serious hurdle to fulfilling the vision of a sustainably and efficiently connected Europe.

Business leaders, including Ole Erik Almlid, CEO of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, NHO, and Göran Eriksson, CEO of the Port of Gothenburg – often dubbed Oslo’s largest port – supported Solberg’s arguments, emphasising the need for a robust infrastructure linking Norway to the rest of Europe, not least in light of the vast expansions to the Port of Gothenburg’s container ship terminal due to open in the winter of 2027-28.

Financing for the Oslo-Gothenburg upgrade

Norwegian State Secretary Abel Cecilie Knibe Kroglund also spoke at the event, providing an update on the government’s priorities, and stating that 1/3 of the budget will be specified to railway development. Anticipation is building as the Norwegian Transport Plan (NTP) for 2025-2036 is set to be unveiled in March 2024.

Solberg, and STRING politican Karin Pleijel, Governing Mayor of Gothenburg, both underlined STRING position paper, submitted to the Norwegian Transport Ministry and the Minister of Transport, in which STRING members urge the ministry to reserve financing for an upgrade of the  Oslo-Gothenburg railway route, including the recent feasability study’s Freight Concept in the NTP. “We believe it is entirely possible to realise this concept within a reasonable timeframe, and within realistic financial limits. I hope that a transport minister from Østfold has an extra keen eye on the value of this”, said Mayor Solberg, referring to Minister of Transport Jon-Ivar Nygård’s orgin in the county closest to the Swedish border.

If such financing should not be included in the NTP, Solberg challenged the Norwegian Government to open up for private financing of the railway stretch. Idar Kreutzer from NHO urged an evaluation of the societal cost of neglecting infrastructure investments, emphasising the need for immediate action: “It is easy to see the cost of investing, but more difficult to see the cost of doing nothing”, he said.

NTP – the Nordic Transport Plan?

The consensus on the primary goal between all speakers was complete: to establish a green, competitive, and resilient mode of transporting goods from Norway to the EU. Both Swedish infrastructure minister Andreas Carlson and Pat Cox, Coordinator of the TEN-T Scan-Med Corridor, acknowledged the EU’s recognition of the Oslo-Gothenburg route as a bottleneck with substantial untapped potential.

Karin Pleijel lifted the decisive importance for Gothenburg to have a better connected railway stretch to Oslo. “This is crucial for trade and climate. We see 2700 diesel trucks passing the border between Norway and Sweden everyday. Even with the rapid development of electric trucks, we must have an efficient railway as the backbone of transport between our two big cities.”

Pleijel highlighted the STRING agenda, addressing the importance also for Gothenburg to be connected to Norway. Gothenburg is the largest port in Norway and 60% of Norwegian export is transported from the Port of Gothenburg. With transport volumes rising substantially from the port in 2027-28 with the container terminal expansion, and even further in 2029 with the opening of the Fehmarn Belt tunnel, the improvement of the Oslo-Gothenburg railway is determining for the international trade both north and south, and the climate impact of doing nothing comprehensive.

Adding to the unanimous conclusions, CEO of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) Ole Erik Almlid proposed renaming Norway’s National Transport Plan , the NTP, the “Nordic Transport Plan” – playing on the clear agreement and value for all of coordinating infrastructure in the Nordic countries on a broader scale.

Critical infrastructure in a volatile security landscape

Another crucial aspect raised by several speakers during the event is the need for upgraded critical infrastructure in light of the changing security situation in Europe. Solberg emphasised Norway’s responsibility to contribute and support its neighboring countries:

“Sweden is on its way into NATO. The European situation has changed radically, and Norway needs to be ready to contribute and support our neighboring countries”, said Solberg and pointed out that cohesive, critical infrastructure, and particularly rail, is vital in the security landscape now faced by all European countries.

Oslo Mayor Solberg concluded by highlighting the impending increase in traffic flow due to the Fehmarn Belt Fixed link opening in 2029 and emphasised the profound impact this will have on the entire STRING region. He urged prioritisation of infrastructure enhancement in Norway towards the EU, starting with the improvement of the Oslo-Gothenburg railway route.

He said: “The impending increase in traffic flow from the opening of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed link in 2029 will have a profound impact on the entire STRING region. To meet this demand, we must prioritise the enhancement of infrastructure in Norway towards the EU and we need to start with an improvement of the Oslo-Gothenburg railway route. This is pivotal for both Norway’s and Sweden’s trade and industry, climate reduction, foreign affairs and defense.”

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