Norwegian Minister of Transport: Expanding critical Arctic railroad

By Trine Jonassen, High North News - March 7, 2024
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Jon Ivar Nygård.
The Norwegian Minister of Transport (Labor) at the Nordland Conference 2024 in Bodø. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

 

Bodø (High North News): There have been clear expectations and demands for double tracks on the Ofoten Line between Sweden and Norway in the Norwegian National Transport Plan. On Tuesday, the Norwegian Minister of Transport said three new passing sidings will be built. “It is the road to double tracks,” says Jon-Ivar Nygård (Labor).

 

Northern Norway’s most important transport corridor is prioritized when the National Transport Plan is presented before Easter. That is confirmed by Minister of Transport Jon-Ivar Nygård (Labor) to High North News after showing up unannounced at the Nordland Conference in Bodø on Tuesday.

It has long been expected that the National Transport Plan prioritizes double tracks on the crucial railway between Northern Norway and Northern Sweden.

The railway from Narvik to the Swedish border constitutes only 1% of the railway grid in Norway but transports over 60% of the goods in tonnes.

This is, among other things, due to the activity on the Swedish side, on which the state-owned mining company LKAB extracts iron ore.

Two billion NOK

The National Transport Plan (NTP), which will be presented just before Easter, will reveal that two to three passing sidings will expand the Ofoten Line.

«It will be on Søsterbekk and Katterat in Narvik municipality,” says Nygård.

In addition, Horisontalen is mentioned as a possible passing siding. In total, the construction plans are awarded NOK 2 billion.

Milestone

Søsterbekk station operates the passenger traffic on the Ofoten Line, and it has direct train connections to Narvik, and Kiruna and Luleå in Northern Sweden.

“It is a milestone.”
Mayor of Narvik, Rune Edvardsen

The mayor of Narvik municipality, Rune Edvardsen, has previously stated that a double track on the Ofoten Line must be in place by 2035. The Labor politician is still pleased with the message from the transport minister.

“It is a milestone and an important step toward double tracks,” says Edvardsen to High North News.

Heading toward double tracks

The Ofoten Line, or the Iron Ore Line, which it is called on the Swedish side, was closed again in February, just days after reopening due to a train derailment on the railway line between Norway and Sweden in the north. Swedish police have started investigating both incidents and have not ruled out sabotage.

The derailment was the second since the middle of December. The Iron Ore Line had then been closed for 65 days.

Ordfører Rune Edvardsen i Narvik på Ofotbanen
Narvik Mayor Rune Edvardsen (Labor) is supported by a united municipal council in that a double track must be built on the Ofotbanen and must be ready by 2035, the municipality writes in a press release. (Photo: Kjetil Moe).

The Swedish Accident Investigation Authority is well underway with investigations of the train set and the railway tracks by Vassijaure station, where the derailment happened.

A good measure

The transport minister has registered the discussion about double tracks versus passing sidings and emphasizes that passing sidings are the road to the sought-after double tracks.

“Because we will continue to expand as the capacity allows it,” says Nygård.

“Additional passing sidings are suitable measures to increase the capacity and strengthen the solidity of the track. And another good measure will also be introduced: increasing the axle load from 31 to 32 tonnes, says the minister.

The axle load is the total weight bearing on the railway for all wheels connected to a given axle.

Increased by four tonnes

For Mayor Edvardsen, the passing siding is a big step in the right direction.

“As Nygård says, all passing sidings are a path to double tracks. With the new passing sidings, we can keep the pressure up and even increase it by four tonnes a day,” says a pleased Edvardsen.

The expansion contributes to maintaining the capacity while double tracks are put in place.

“This means that we have been heard. So we must continue to work for double tracks by 2035,” concludes the Narvik mayor.

Good dialogue with Sweden

The problems on the railway have happened on the Swedish side. How do you cooperate with Swedish authorities?

“We have good dialogue with our Swedish colleagues about the big picture. Already a year and a half ago, we had a Nordic transport minister meeting in Fredrikstad, where we discussed how we would collaborate in light of the new NATO memberships and work with the corridors between our countries considering civil protection, preparedness, and defense needs,” says the transport minister.

Public security, preparedness, and defense are an important part of the commission.
Norwegian Minister of Transport, Jon-Ivar Nygård

He says that this has since been worked on at an official level.

Important for preparedness

The work on the Iron Ore and Ofoten Line is considered especially important in a preparedness context.

For example, the derailments affect logistics in connection with the Nordic Response exercise.

“When we started the work with a national transport plan, public security, preparedness, and defense were an important part of the commission,” says Nygård.

Full throttle

When the derailment happened in December last year, Nygård quickly contacted his Swedish colleague to ensure that the Swedish side was going “full throttle on this.”

“And they were. The reopening was delayed, and we have not had any direct contact at the official level regarding the latest incident. But I know they are working to reopen on March 7th, which is soon.”

What do you think about the sabotage theory of the Swedish police?

“I have no basis to speculate on that. The police investigation must clear that up. I know nothing more than what I have read in the newspaper.”

In what way have Finland and Sweden’s NATO memberships affected the process?

“It has strengthened the public security and preparedness perspective and how important east-west connections between our countries are,” concludes transport minister Jon-Ivar Nygård.


High North News is an independent newspaper published by the High North Center at Nord University in Bodø, Norway.