At the weekend I was talking to a group of my friends here in the north about Friday’s fire on the Stockholm to Gothenburg X2000 high-speed train.
Not many of them could rustle up much enthusiasm for expressing sympathy, which is odd as they’re mostly decent, empathetic, human beings.
One chap even went as far as expressing some full-on cynicism, a trait I rarely encounter up here. “Well, I suppose they’ll just build another very expensive railway line to make sure they’re never inconvenienced again. And I suppose we northerners will have to foot the bill.”
Much of this man’s anger, and the group’s indifference to the plight of the stricken train’s passengers, can be sourced back to the news in December that the new high-speed rail line linking Stockholm with Gothenburg and Malmö was going to cost up to 320 billion kronor ($38 billion), almost double the initial estimate of 170 billion kronor.
Soon after this news became public, people heard rumours that, in order to pay for the southern rail link, the Social Democrat-led coalition government was going to cut a number of public infrastructure projects in the north, in particular the Norrbotniabanan project.
Rail travellers living in Gothenburg don't know how lucky they are, argues Paul Connolly. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
The Norrbotniabanan is a hugely important new rail line for Norrland, one that will link the cities of Umeå, Skellefteå, Piteå and Luleå – this coastal part of Sweden is the most densely inhabited region in the country without passenger trains.
This rail link has been mooted since the 1920s. For it to be scuppered now would be nothing short of a body blow to Norrland – one it can’t afford to take.
And let's not forget – this part of Sweden is a staunch stronghold for the ruling Social Democrats and the party has long promised this rail link. For their own party to scrap Norrbotniabanan would make the loss even greater for northerners.
Waldemar Mellquist, a retired journalist, who worked for the Norran regional newspaper in Skellefteå, believes that the potential scrapping of Norrbotniabanan would be just the latest in a long line of indignities visited upon the north by the south.
“In the 1970s the AMS (Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen, the predecessor of Arbetsförmedlingen) worked very hard to get people to move south to plug labour gaps down there. People here in the north named AMS, Alla Måste Söderut (all must head south).”
“These days we provide the south with timber, iron ore, gold and electricity. We provide them with some of our finest brains. There has long been a brain drain from north to south.”
“For as long as I can remember Norrland’s had a colonial status with the south. And because there are supposedly so few of us up here, the political parties don’t really care about us – there are more voters to collect in the south.”
Before the threat to the Norrbotniabanan emerged, some in Norrland were, at the very least, peeved with the south. Now, with the threat to the rail link, there’s a tinge of anger.
“We’re not your typical revolutionaries up here,” a friend said at the weekend.
“We love our lives up here. We don’t want to live down south. It’s too damp and full of miserable people. We don't even want respect for what we do for Sweden. What we want is access to the same opportunities as the south.”
“People try to paint us as hillbillies but we have one of Europe’s finest universities up here (Umeå). We attract global companies (Facebook has a server farm in Luleå).”
“And yet the south just keeps taking from us. If they cancel Norrbotniabanan just so a few high-earners down south can have a bit of a lie-in in the morning, well, they might as well all just kiss goodbye to our votes. Yes, even the Social Democrats.”