Norwegian rail passengers have many and varied opinions when it comes to local trains – in terms of puncuality, standards and the comfort of the actual carriage. In Norway, Norske tog is responsible for procuring, owning and managing the trains.

On average, more than 193,000 Norwegians travel by train every day. Most of them are commuters, who rely on the train to get to and from their place of work or study. For these people, the local train is the link between home and work. A train running on time is often what makes it all come together.

Passengers expect both punctuality and a comfortable journey.

The nearer the train gets to Norway’s major hubs – such as Oslo S, Stavanger, Oslo Airport, Bergen and Trondheim – the less space there is and the “lower” the level of comfort. This affects the customer experience.

As well as passenger expectations, there are several other factors that influence the nature of Norway’s rail service. These include geography, climate and nature, infrastructure, and the construction of the platforms at which the trains stop. Norske tog are specialists in the special conditions pertaining in Norway. The company’s engineers closely monitor technological developments in the market, particularly within areas that are important for Norwegian conditions. These are dedicated experts, who use their specialist knowledge to obtain rolling stock compatible with the special conditions in Norway.

The current local train service (and short- distance regional trains)

At present, local train lines are serviced by several different types of trainset with varying life spans, technology and levels of comfort. The oldest trainsets are found on the local train lines in Eastern Norway, as well as the Arendal and Bratsberg Railways. These are Class 69 C, D and H trainsets, all with technology dating from the early 1970s. They provide good passenger capacity, but are now outdated in terms of both technical lifespan and passenger comfort standard.

In 2018, there have been challenges linked to the railway’s signalling system, resulting in periods of temporary stoppages. In combination with other unforeseen events and scheduled maintenance on the rail network, this has led to rail traffic coming to a halt for commuters.

However, it is not only the passengers who have expectations of the trains. The train operating companies, such as NSB and Go-Ahead, are totally dependent on reliable trains. They must be able to have confidence that the trainsets at their disposal will work. Unfortunately, Class 69 has posed challenges as a result of wear and tear, old technology and lack of redundancy. Replacement parts have proved both expensive and difficult to obtain, which is why work is under way to replace these old trains.

The introduction of the new ERTMS digital signalling system and procurement of new local trains will enable Norske tog to improve its offers to the operating companies. It can also improve capacity, reliability and punctuality. This in turn will increase passenger satisfaction with the trains and the train operating companies.

The two most important prerequisites for passengers choosing to travel by train and public transport rather than car are punctuality and a sufficiently good train service. Norske tog works continuously to enable the train operating companies to offer their passengers the best possible travel experience.

Satisfied rail passengers

Based on the survey conducted by NSB in the second half of 2018, as many as 79% of rail passengers say they are very satisfied with all the train types. Given the condition of many of the local trains, this is good news for Norske tog. Despite positive feedback, Norske tog considers it important to procure an adequate number of new local trains. New figures from NSB show passenger growth of 6.7% in 2018, requiring additional new trains.

Norske tog’s goal is to improve the quality of the onboard experience. For passengers, this includes factors such as sitting comfort, being able to move comfortably through the train and getting the information they need en route. Good, stable mobile and internet coverage are also important.

«Invisible» innovation

When we talk about innovation, most people think first and foremost of new technology and new gadgets. What they forget is that innovation is also about challenging what already exists by thinking in new ways.

In Norske tog’s case, this is a question of increasing train capacity using smart design for the interior, creating solutions for faster boarding and alighting, and adapting the trainsets to Norwegian conditions.

All infrastructure has a capacity limitation, and the same applies to the Norwegian rail network. Moreover, the platforms are designed such that a standard railway vehicle from any international manufacturer will result in too large a gap between the train and the platform – this is not the case for trains that have been adapted to Norwegian specifications. These trains are “low and squat” in contrast to “high and slender” as found elsewhere in Europe.

This is one element of the Norwegian conditions with which Norske tog is very familiar, and about which the company challenges trainset manufacturers to think creatively. At present, 24 trains an hour travel through the Oslo Tunnel. Each train has around 60 seconds at its disposal at the station. The restricted capacity on the infrastructure makes it important to have the best possible passenger flow from the platform and on to the train. The width of the doors, the distance between the doors, and the distance between the train and platform are much more significant than people realise. Every extra 10 cm of distance between the train and the platform increases the time it takes to board/alight by 10%. This in turn will affect the time the train spends at the station, thus placing a further constraint on capacity.

Norway’s rail network represents only 0.6% of the total global market for trains. Despite this small market share, Norske tog has an ambition to challenge train manufacturers to come up with innovative solutions that contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient energy use and smart interior solutions that could increase capacity.

Norway is also a good place to test trains and new technology. Railway vehicles operating on Norwegian tracks must cope with everything from snow and ice to steep gradients and long tunnels – hence the stringent specifications.

Improved service with new local trains

While Class 70 trains will be replaced by trainsets from Option 5 in the Stadler contract, in 2019 Norske tog plans to issue a call for tenders for new local trains to replace the Class 69 trains. This is no straightforward task.

If Norske tog’s train fleet is to be included in various traffic packages, it is important to standardise the fleet with fewer types of train. This will provide greater flexibility and better utilisation of the fleet across lease contracts and traffic packages. A fleet of rolling stock comprising fewer train types also means more cost- effective operations.

New local trains will change the daily commute for thousands of passengers. New and modern interiors, effective solutions and better mobile coverage will improve the travel experience. But most important of all, the new local train will contribute to higher punctuality. Less stress, more calm – and more time for the important things in life.