‘Sweden has worst railway maintenance in Europe’: SJ CEO

Swedish state railway firm SJ was making all-out efforts today to tackle huge problems resulting from the recent cold snap.

The chairman of SJ, Ulf Adelsohn, has said that Sweden had the poorest railway maintenance network of all comparable systems in Europe.

More than 1,000 workers were clearing ice along railway tracks and switches in a network comprising 13,000 kilometres of tracks, the 20th largest in the world.

In the past few frigid weeks, maintenance and locomotive problems, including carriages and signaling systems, have caused a public uproar. Trains are often running erratically, and sometimes not at all.

The chairman of the state-owned system told the daily Dagens Nyheter that SJ has not received sufficient funding for maintenance over the years.

“A European study shows that Sweden had the worst maintenance record with railways of all comparable European countries,” said Ulf Adelsohn.

He said SJ told the government in 2005 that it would be wise to pump fresh investments into maintenance.

“We got a lot of criticism for proposing this,” said Adelsohn, a former leader of the centre-right Moderates.

Adelsohn was joined by SJ President Jans Forsberg in saying that the government must bear its share of responsibility for problems afflicting the system during a cold and snowy winter.

As an example, Forsberg said the high speed X2000 trains can accumulate up to three tons of clinging ice during present wintry circumstances. It takes 4-8 hours to de-ice.

“It also happens that technical equipment under train carriages can freeze, and sometimes this includes toilets and the water and electrical systems.”

He said he could not predict when the situation would change. Everything depended on the weather.

“The political system is responsible for determining how much will be invested (in maintenance), while we are responsible for investing in trains in such a way that they can tolerate this kind of weather in a more satisfactory manner,” Forsberg added.

SJ last week announced profits of 460 million kronor ($65 million) in 2009, with passenger traffic declining by 2 percent.

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Trains stopped between Stockholm and Gothenburg

Trains between Stockholm and Gothenburg have been stopped and between Stockholm and Malmö severely disrupted due to a fire and several electrical faults.

Trains stopped between Stockholm and Gothenburg

“We have problems with all rail traffic south of Norrland,” Peter Jonsson, from the Swedish Transport Administration, told the country’s TT newswire. “The heat has of course had an impact, particularly when it concerns the fire, but we’re not otherwise speculating on the cause.” 

According to the agency, the issues are the result of four separate incidents, a fire south of Hallsberg, an overhead power contact line, which has snapped, and two electrical faults. 

Peter Krameus, a spokesperson for Sweden’s state-owned rail company SJ, said that all trains were being sent back to the stations from which they most recently departed until the faults could be corrected. 

While trains between Stockholm and Gothenburg have been stopped completely, trains between Stockholm and Malmö have been affected by two problems with overhead lines. Trains between Mjölby and Nässjö and Eslöv and Stehag are travelling onto on one of the two lines now. 

“That doesn’t mean that all traffic has stopped, but it’s going to mean cancelled trains and delayed departures,” Jonsson said. 

So far, 50 of SJ’s train departures have been cancelled as a result of the faults.