It's incomprehensible to choose polluting aircraft over the train.
A simple matter
Klassekampen, 19 Oct 2018
The fight against climate change can be complex, but some decisions are simple. Like not building a third runway at Gardermoen, the airport of Oslo. An increase in the capacity of the airport will only lead to more CO2 emissions and more noise pollution. That's bad for the environment and bad for the immediate surroundings.
It is therefore unsurprising that the opposition grows from all sides – from environmental organizations, the civilian platform "No to the third runway", and also the farmers' union. In early September they gathered in front of the Norwegian parliament to protest loud and clear against a third runway. But if we can believe Avinor, which operates Oslo airport, all this protest is unnecessary. The third runway is inevitable. Air traffic increases, and by 2030 Gardermoen approaches its maximum number of passengers: 35 million per year. The only solution would be an additional runway, and this should be decided upon now.
Surely, we are capable of arranging our domestic travel differently?
It's important to mention that Avinor has the desire to turn Oslo airport into a big, international hub. In the future, trans-Atlantic passengers should no longer transfer in London, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt, but in Oslo. Whether Avinor can beat this competition is unclear – but if they're successful, the people who roar over our heads will only visit the airport. That's good business for the airport, but of little value for the rest of the country. And even if you happen to agree with Avinor that the airport has to grow, it's possible to do so with two runways. Heathrow, which receives 75 million passengers a year, has only two. Yes, it's chaos when it snows there - but that's also the case at Frankfurt airport which has four runways. A lack of snow plows and good de-icing facilities seems to play a bigger role here. That's not a problem in Oslo.
Gardermoen reaches its limits primarily during peak hours, and a third runway could help relieve those. But three out of ten travelers, in and outside of peak hours, fly on just five routes. Every year, 8.5 million passengers fly to and from Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. I agree that a good connection with these cities is important, but the distance is less than 500 km as the crow flies. Besides, Norwegians already fly the most domestically of all Europeans – four times as much as the Swedes, who are number two on the list. Surely, we are capable of arranging our domestic travel differently?
Almost seven years ago, the Norwegian railway authorities published a detailed feasibility report on a possible high-speed network in Norway. If the network had been fully built, you would've been able to reach Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger within two to three hours, directly to and from the city center. That's a lot faster than flying, because even if the flight itself lasts just 50 minutes, actual travel time is four hours or more due to transport to and from the airport, the security check, waiting time, and boarding. If Oslo airport wasn't connected to Norway's only high-speed railway, flying would take even longer.
Unfortunately, the high-speed train at long distances never became a reality, despite expected passenger numbers in the millions. The government wants to wait for the current expansion of the intercity network, but that will not be completed before 2030. This reluctance is mainly due to the fact that the construction of high-speed lines isn't cheap in mountainous Norway. But even a limited implementation is not on the agenda, while the rest of Europe has long since shown that it pays off to make such a big investment. Few people in Germany and France fly at distances up to 500 km. Airlines know this: Lufthansa offers train journeys on short distances.
High-speed lines are a success because everyone knows that the train is faster and more comfortable for short distances, despite an unfair playing field. Flying is excessively subsidized through the virtual lack of duties on kerosene, little or no VAT on air tickets, and since the enormous environmental impact isn't calculated into the costs. In the new state budget, the government is taking this a step further by reducing the surcharge for flights at short distances.
It is incomprehensible that one of the richest countries in the world cannot even get one decent high-speed line between two big cities but doubles down on polluting aircraft. Yes, they want all domestic flights to be electric by 2040. But whether that goal will be reached is highly uncertain. The necessary electric aircraft do not exist, or only as sketches on the drawing board, while the high-speed train is a proven technology. If we want to turn Norway into a country in which traveling between cities is both faster and more environmentally friendly, then that solution lies on land, and not in the air.
This text first appeared in Klassekampen on 19 Oct 2018