In this day and age, with greenhouse gases engulfing the planet amid a financial crisis likely to bury the auto industry (which in all honesty ought to be long-since buried anyway) we need to explore the alternatives, of which one has been available for decades. The first streamlined high-speed trains, with a 130 km/h average speed and a more than 160 km/h top speed were introduced in Europe and the United States as early as 1933, as a matter of fact, and yet, some countries, such as Norway, are still hopelessly behind.
I pondered these things travelling from Oslo to Bergen and back, visiting family for the holidays – an altogether 496 kilometre stretch both ways, with ample chance to enjoy fabulous sceneries while you work, read – or enjoy the relaxation of your choice. Personally I find the opportunity to work en route, now that more and more trains offer wireless Internet connection, most enticing, even though I’ve preferred trains for years already. And yes, I do feel a little guilty for leisure travels even by train, unnecessarily spending electricity that I’m convinced could be put to better use, but the alternative, going by plane, is simply too unheard of.
Not an environmental issue – alone
Having said that, I must admit that my concern for the environment probably isn’t my chief rationale for preferring trains. Contrary to popular belief, travelling by train is so much more convenient. Think of it: If I were to fly to Bergen, I’d first have to go by local train to the Oslo central station, whence I’d have to take the (expensive) airport express train. By the time I arrive on Oslo Airport Gardermoen, an hour or so will already have passed. Pressing on, we check in, stay in line for a security check, walk for quite a stretch, only to find that departure’s been postponed, due to unforeseen reasons (in reality the airlines skip flights in order to fill up another one). Then you queue up in front of the gate, and wait on board for quite some time before take-off. By which time I will have reached almost halfway to Bergen by train. Late edit: If you’re not yet convinced, I actually quite forgot that a crucial element remains: Waiting for luggage and getting from the Bergen airport to Bergen itself. Add an extra hour to the equation.
I think you get the picture. Speaking of pictures: Which airlines offer these kinds of sceneries, anyway?
Even so it just will not do. With high-speed trains I’d be in Bergen long ago by the time the air plane took off. That’s what I call competition. Look at Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen, opening back in 1964, France’s TGV, The European Eurostar! From what I understand, even Spain is pretty well covered by high-speed trains, the so-called AVE (Alta Velocidad Española).
The centennial perspective
We’re about to turn another year. On 27 November 2009 the above mentioned Bergen Line marks its 100th anniversary. To think what investments we were willing to make at a time when Norway’s finances were very slim, to say the least, compared to today’s unspeakable wealth and paralysis… Certainly, there’s been much talk of a high-speed rail in Norway over the last years, but very little is expected to happen in the nearest decades. In fact, chances of seeing a high-speed rail materialise in these parts is likely to happen in yet another 100 years, rather than a couple of decades. That’s how decisive Norwegian politicians are. After all, and as you can imagine, for a country like ours money simply is no object.
Think of the environmental implications of reducing air traffic to a minimum. There’s little doubt that, with a two-hour fare from Oslo to Bergen or Trondheim, it’d most certainly be the preferred means of transportation for most business travellers, who, just to top it all, is offered online services as well, facilitating two very productive hours – in preparation of a meeting, perhaps. Freight and cargo not withstanding.
An economy with an expiration date
During these last 100 years since the Bergen Line was opened, it soon became clear that we geared up to catch up on the automotive revolution. The development of Norwegian infrastructure has been extremely car-centred this last century, whereas rail roads have been put on hold, more or less. Granted, we’ve seen a modernisation in rail road equipment, trains included, but the infrastructure as such… Zip, zilch and nada, save for an extra track here and there. All very much in line with the overall economy, which, to say the least, is everything but visionary. We’re building roads instead. Knowing Norwegian politics, I can only speculate as to why that is so, but here’s an educated guess:
Cars need fossil fuel. Norway is a considerable provider of fossil fuel. If it’s good for the automotive industry, it simply has to be good for Norway, no?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought there’s something fishy about economies based on a commodity with an expiration date. All the more cause for concern, then.
I interviewed top executives in The Federation of Norwegian Industries in relation with just high-speed rail earlier this year, who were adamant that high-speed trains would improve the industry’s conditions considerably, not only in terms of reduced emissions, but also substantial cost reductions – and really, it isn’t that hard to understand why.
There’s little doubt that the investments will be sizable, but the return on investment is likely to be colossal.
Honest to God, I’m not sure I understand how they think… Are they per chance under the impression that harvesting is feasable quite without the element of sowing?
It would appear so – in too many questions, I’m afraid.
Anyway, here’s what we’re missing out on. A German ICE3 passing a station at 300 km/h:
Top photo: The Oslo Airport Express (Mick Tully).