Travellers who fly to Oslo, the capital of Norway, generally have two options to get into town: land at Sandefjord Torp Airport, 110 kilometres from town, which is served by several low-cost airlines, or fly in to Norway’s main airport, gateway to its biggest city: Gardermoen Airport, known more simply as Oslo Airport. Even this airport is hardly close to the capital: it’s about 47 kilometres away, about as far as Milan-Malpensa airport is from the centre of the Lombard capital. In Oslo, however, passengers hardly notice the distance. Flytoget, the Scandinavian country’s first high-speed train, whose history dates back thirty years, links the international airport to the city centre, specifically Oslo Sentralstasjon (central train station). The line makes it possible to travel from the airport to the city centre in just nineteen minutes, effectively minimizing the far-from-negligible distance between the runways and the centre of Norwegian life. It should come as no surprise to find such efficiency in a country that, according to the figures, is the most prosperous in the world, where transport is in many ways light years ahead of other European countries, given that in 2020 over half of all cars sold in Norway were electric. That said, the story of building Flytoget – which in addition to being super-fast is also electric, making it zero-emissions – was anything but smooth and problem-free.
The Flytoget line from Gardermoen Airport
In 1992, the Norwegian Parliament decided to build a new airport to serve the capital and Eastern Europe, replacing the old, no-longer-viable city airport. Gardermoen was chosen as the most suitable location, even if, as we have seen, it lies some way away from the city, and is nowhere near the main railway line connecting Oslo to the country’s north. It was consequently necessary to build a special railway line: Norway’s first high-speed line. The country had made a previous attempt to build a high-speed rail line, but the Østfold Line, built between Ski and Moss, did not end up being a true high-speed link: the relatively short distances and limitations of the rolling stock prevented the train from exceeding 160 kilometres per hour.
Construction of Oslo’s Flytoget Line
Construction of the Flytoget electric, high-speed rail line began in 1994. Even at the design stage, it was clear what the line’s biggest obstacle would be: the Romerike tunnel, at 14,580 metres in length, is the longest tunnel in Norway. Construction of the tunnel was complicated not so much for its length – as we know, the world’s longest railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, is more than 57 kilometres long – but rather the geological instability of the area between Etterstad and Lillestrøm, near the city centre. Those initial concerns turned out to be well-founded: in 1997, during tunnel construction, surveyors noticed that water levels in some of the lake basins in the works area were slowly going down. Losses from the Lutvann and Nordre Puttjern lakes were of particular concern. Before long, evidence was found that the leaks were directly associated with tunnel construction: at its worst, the lakes were losing as much as 3,000 litres of water per minute. The project was put in significant jeopardy until a solution was found to stop the leaks. Initially, they tried a sealant, but that failed to cure properly: not only did it not stop the infiltration, it caused additional damage, polluting the surrounding environment with acrylamide. The only solution turned out to be blocking the leaks with cement, causing major delays in tunnel construction. This solution would be unthinkable today, particularly in a nation responsible for the world’s first carbon neutral construction site, but at the time it was permissible, despite the year-long delay in work delivery. To complicate matters further, disagreements broke out between NSB Gardermobanen and Scandinavian Rock Group, the construction company involved in building the tunnel.
The Cost of Building the Oslo Flytoget Line
The total investment for building the Oslo Flytoget line came to NOK 10 billion (currently NOK 10 equates to just under EUR 1), including around NOK 2 billion in initially unbudgeted costs. Nevertheless, the high-speed train was operational by the time the new airport opened… at least partially. Not until August 1999 was the new line fully up and running, its trains finally able to use the Romerike Tunnel rather than diverting onto the Hovedbane line between Oslo Central Station and Lillestrøm.
The High-Speed Train between Oslo and Gardermoen Airport Today
The line has had just one fatal accident, in 1999, when a National Rail Administration employee was killed by a train travelling at 100 miles per hour rather than the local 50-mile-per-hour limit.
Oslo’s Flytoget line trains run every ten minutes, connecting the city to the airport in under twenty minutes. There is only one stop between the airport and the city centre, Lillestrøm, after which the train continues its journey to Drammen, 100 kilometres away (taking sixty minutes). The most recent statistics released by the company (for 2016) show that over the course of that year, 6.5 million people used the Airport Express Train, which ran on time 96% of the time and achieved 97% customer satisfaction.
The Flytoget train was the trailblazer for Norway’s high-speed rail. Not only is the nation’s capital considered one of the greenest cities in the world, Norway invests heavily in transport, including the high-speed underground Follo Railway Line.