On December 15 th 2016 the second annual assembly took place in Berlin, at the IHK headquarters in Fasanenstrasse 85. It has been an active year, with significant progress both in the COINCO North and the COINCO South. Knut Olav Halvorsen and Christian Wiesenhütter were re-elected as chairman and vice chairman. Most of the meeting was used to go through the annual report and the activities and results made during the year:
The beginning of COINCO North goes long back. One could say that it has its background in the year 1905 and the dissolving of the union between Norway and Sweden. This was the year and the reason the rail project between Oslo and Gothenburg was stopped just outside the border town Strømstad 20 km south of the Norwegian border. A serious attempt was done in 1989 to get the rail planning start again, but the Swedish and Norwegian authorities managed that time only to agree on new road (E6) between the two cities. The new four lane road bridge of Svinesund was opened in 2005. That was also the same year that the first interreg project COINCO was started. COINCO North was the second project – starting in 2008. Since then there has been an increased activity (see previous articles) to make the politicians of Norway and Sweden to agree on starting serious planning for making modern railroad between the two cities. The last ten years the truck traffic over Svinesund (the narrow fjord between Norway and Sweden) has increased between 6 – 8 % pr. year. There are now more trucks passing Svinesund than the Øresund bridge, creating huge traffic congestions and environmental challenges for both Norway and Sweden.
In 2016 COINCO e.V has been actively involved in bringing together administrative, political, industrial and financing partners in Norway and Sweden for the development of the COINCO North corridor. The reason was the expectations on the report by Jernbaneverket and Trafikverket (Norwegian and Swedish rail planning authorities) that was finally published in May 2016 (half a year delayed). However the report was too narrow in its perspectives and did not get into the real economic analysis. It suggested that the main future rail corridor – for both passengers and freight – should go through the Norwegian border town Halden and through Dalsland (to the east and inland in Vestra Götaland in Sweden).
This was not acceptable for the City of Halden. The preliminary plans showed that the infrastructure would destroy most of the central urban areas of Halden. First of all it was the need to lift up the whole rail infrastructure 2.7 meters due to the expected rise in sea level (because of expected global warming). This would mean a large “wall” or barrier through the city. Another issue was the steep hills south of Halden (Tistedalsbakkene), which means that one needs to divide the freight trains in two and use extra locomotives to get up the hills, with all the logistic fuzz and noise that would create. The politicians in Halden said no to this. The whole process was in danger of ending up in a dead lock. Also central government in Norway (Jernbaneverket) agreed that this was not a good solution. A new round of planning, where one is looking into more alternatives was therefore needed. The secretariat of COINCO e.V. started all ready in spring to work with the City of Halden to look into other alternatives and to lobby again make the Norwegian and Swedish governments willing to make a new and complete concept study with more alternatives, included economic cost benefit analysis. One of the alternatives would be to look into finishing the 1905 plan. This would also mean the upgrading of the Bohusbanan (on the West Coast of Vestra Götaland). An intensified lobby during the year, with meetings in Oslo, Halden, Strömstad (the border town and end station on Bohusbanan on the Swedish side) and Gothenburg took place during the year. In addition a series of articles in influential Norwegian and Swedish newspapers were published. The aim has been (and still is) to get a decision of a full concept study in the Norwegian National Transportation Plan (NTP) by the Norwegian Parliament in the summer of 2017. In parallel one has been working on lobbying the Swedish government to make a similar decision on the Swedish NTP in the summer of 2018.
The Norwegian government has in several official documents already stated that a new and more thorough planning will be initiated. As late as December 13 th (after the annual report for COINCO was written) the Swedish transportation committee (Trafikutskottet) made a decision to “advice the Swedish government to develop a border crossing strategy for rail”. What the final decisions will be, one will when the NTP in Norway is decided in the summer of 2017 and finally when the Swedish one is decided 2018. The lobby work will therefore continue in 2017.
The COINCO South was not much in focus the first half of the year, since COINCO North needed most attention. But it was also a fact that the preliminary cost estimations done, related to building a 100 km tunnel with conventional methods between South Sweden and North East Germany, seemed to make the project difficult to finance. The cost estimates were ranging between 10 bill. euro and up to even 25 bill. euro. In the latter case it would clearly not be a profitable project (widely defined). With an estimated price tag of 10 bill. euro it was in the possible range of being profitable. However these were in any case unsecure estimates.
However during the summer of 2016 there were some significant developments in what some likes to call “The fifth form of transportation” – hyperloop. The story of hyperloop transportation goes in fact all the way back to 1799. The first pneumatic transportation system was set up (but did not survive very long) in New York in the 1860-ies. It was in fact outcompeted by steam locomotive trains. Elon Musk brought new life into the idea around 2012 and since then the hyperloop technologies have been in rapid development. Since May 2016 the drivers of the industry have decided to leave the “air shuffle board technologies” principle and go for maglev (magnetic elevation) principles. This has been a break through since maglev is a much more proven technology and is actually in use many places (airport express train in Shanghai). Also the first successful test rides were done last summer in USA.
The hyperloop technology became relevant also for COINCO e.V when a study was published in July on a suggested hyperloop connection between Stockholm and Helsinki (in 30 minutes). Most of the stretch was suggested to be as tunnels under the Baltic Sea, and this alternative would therefore also be very costly and in fact not profitable.
The idea developed and spurred by the crises in the Norwegian petroleum offshore industry, (due to the low oil prices), it became evident that there is a lot of available capacity on how to build tube infrastructure on the sea bottom. The idea came up: Why not just lay the hyperloop tubes on the sea bottom instead of drilling expensive tunnels? A first investigation of the cost advantages shows that this method could be as low as only one tenth of the conventional cost. All of the sudden it has become clear that a fixed link between South Sweden and North East Germany could cost much less than the cost to build the Øresund bridge, and it could have a much larger market. The main advantage of the hyperloop is the claimed reduced construction costs, the environmental benefits and the high speed. The critique is listi.ng the problems of temperature fluctuations and safety. At the sea bottom the air temperature are relative constant and if one starts with transporting freight, peoples safety is not a big issue. The sea bottom is also in general much more safe for possible terrorism than on land. COINCO e.V. has already gathered a lot of information on the actual corridor here defined as COINCO South. It turns out that this particular corridor is one of the best suited corridor for an underwater hyperloop link in Europe, possible also the world. A concept study of a hyperloop connection between Trelleborg/Malmö and Sassnitz/Stralsund/Berlin was thus initiated in November. The first results were presented in Malmø on the 14 th of December and on the annual assembly for COINCO e.V. the day after, in Berlin. The feedback from experts, politicians and planners has been positive, and a further investigation with the Norwegian architect company Snøhetta and potential industrial partners in both Scandinavia and Germany and rest of the world is now starting up. One will hear much more of hyperloop in year 2017 (Hyperloop KH Shorten English Version 15 th of December 2016).