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Three arrested for train sabotage

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23:21 CEST+02:00
After weeks of sabotage SL, Stockholm's transport company, cancelled all evening commuter trains between Västerhaninge and Nynäshamn on Saturday, saying that they could not guarantee passenger safety.

By Wednesday three boys had been arrested and the service began again - but not before the notorious train route had dominated front pages both in Stockholm and nationwide.

In recent weeks local youths have thrown stones at the trains and threatened and abused staff and other passengers on the service. The final straw came late on Friday night when vandals threw bicycles and rubbish onto the track near Tungelsta.

SL and Citypendeln, the company which runs the trains, immediately withdrew the service after 4pm each day, replacing it with a bus service. In the ensuing media rumpus passengers blamed the police, the police blamed Nynäshamn social services, and the rail companies, not unreasonably, blamed the vandals.

Mikael Lindskog, the information officer at Citypendeln, told Sunday's DN that in the last two years this stretch of the line has become like a youth club.

"The sabotage usually begins soon after school has finished. Last week a drain cover was thrown onto the track at about five o'clock," he said. "There are threats, violence and drunkenness onboard. On a number of occasions conductors have been strangled by passengers who don't want to pay."

The decision was supported by staff on the route and conductor Thomas Eriksson told Stockholm City: "The passengers are horrible, swearing and spitting at me when I'm just trying to do my job."

Train driver Conny Ekström, who admitted that with a braking distance of 600 metres he has begun to wonder what's around the next corner, said that the problem has been getting worse and worse.

"[Stopping the trains] is the only thing that will help," he said. "It will get the politicians to react and there will be a lot of pressure from the local residents to get something done."

Conny was right. With the papers as packed with commuters' complaints as the buses carrying them between Västerhaninge and Nynäshamn, the politicians started speaking out.

"A terrorist gang has strangled our communications which is a catastrophe for a town with 5,000 commuters," Nynäshamn council member Leif Senquist told Monday's Metro, perhaps optimistically trying to get global support under the banner of the war on terror.

Tore Åkerbäck, another council member continued along the same tracks in Stockholm City:

"The police and half of Nynäshamn know who is carrying out the sabotage against the trains. Why don't the police pick them up? Shall we let the terrorists take over society?"

The police's answer came on Tuesday. As well as pointing out that all of the suspected trouble-makers were supposed to be in the care of the social services, they agreed to invest extra resources in policing the route, with both uniformed and plain-clothes officers.

"It is we and not the hooligans who shall decide when the buses and trains run in our region," said Lennart Gabrielsson, the Folk Party's group leader on the Stockholm police board.

According to Tuesday's Svenska Dagbladet the county police chief Carin Götblad told the local police forces to take "powerful measures" to ensure that the guilty could be arrested. 75-80 officers were apparently put on the job.

But the finger-pointing continued with the Moderates' Kristina Axén Olin, who chairs the police board, criticising SL's drastic approach to the problem.

"They should have contacted the police to find out what investment could have been put in," she said. "To directly stop the train traffic is completely unacceptable - it sends out the wrong signals."

Nevertheless, the extra effort on the part of the police appears to have paid off. On Wednesday the papers reported that three 16 year old boys had been arrested on suspicion of causing serious damage. One of them was kept in custody and police declined to provide any more information other than saying that they were expecting to arrest more youths.

That was good enough for SL and Citypendeln, who announced that the evening service would begin again right away.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm City, Metro

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