Lessons from Norway for Minnesota Passenger Rail

A Norwegian State Railways train near the town of Støren on the line to Trondheim.

A Norwegian State Railways train near the town of Støren on the line to Trondheim. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, by Sveins, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

When talking about expanding passenger train service in Minnesota and other parts of the U.S., it’s common to be told that our area of the country has cities that are too small and spread out for it to ever work. Supposedly, only the Northeast and a few other heavily-populated areas have the population and travel demand to support passenger rail. We certainly don’t have the same densities as France, Germany, or Japan, but I had a feeling that there are parts of the world that are much more similar to Minnesota or other parts of the Midwest, yet have successful rail systems.

I started searching for such places earlier this year, initially looking at our nearest neighbor, Canada. Unfortunately, it turns out that Canadian passenger rail policy has produced a worse overall result than what we’ve seen here (Via Rail has a network that pales in comparison even to our skeletal Amtrak system, something I hope to delve into in a future article). Eventually, I turned to Europe to see what I could find over there, and I discovered that Norway’s situation fits our situation pretty well.

Norway is an interesting place to compare, especially since a sizable chunk of Minnesota’s population is descended from people who migrated here from Norway or other Scandinavian countries. (Of course, it’s about twice as common for a Minnesotan to be of German heritage than Norwegian.)Population graph of Minnesota and Norway from 1960 to the presentIt turns out that Minnesota and Norway have had similarly-sized populations for the last several decades, and have been growing at similar rates. In fact, Minnesota passed Norway’s population around 1981, when Minnesota reached a population over 4.1 million. However, Norway is a lot larger than our fair state: 149,000 square miles (385,000 km2) of land, 1.7 times our 87,000 sq. mi. (225,000 km2). Since Minnesota has a somewhat bigger population, we have an overall density 1.9 times that of Norway.

The country’s shape is stretched out compared to our state borders. Most of it is narrower than Minnesota, but Norway is about 1,150 miles end-to-end. Since Minnesota is about 400 miles north-to-south, you’d need to stack nearly three Minnesotas on top of each other to reach Norway’s northeastern edge.

If our area can’t justify the existence of passenger trains, then surely it doesn’t make sense for Norway to have any, right? But in fact, they have a system that is widely used. Here’s a map of Norway’s passenger rail network along with major cities (5,000 and larger) and other significant municipalities (kommunes):

Map of existing passenger rail service in Norway, with city markers

Here’s the same map with the city markers removed so the lines can be seen more clearly:

Map of existing passenger rail service in Norway

(A zoomable version is available here.)Legend for rail maps

The main rail network extends from Bergen and Stavanger in the western part of the country eastward through Oslo and into Sweden, along with two lines that run north from Oslo toward Trondheim. From Trondheim there’s one line that extends to Bodø, which lies north of the Arctic Circle. A short stretch of track also connects the city of Narvik even farther north, though the only way to get there by rail from other parts of Norway is to go through Sweden.

Minnesota only has Amtrak’s Empire Builder (one daily round-trip) and the Northstar commuter train (six daily round-trips) providing passenger service on the state’s intercity rail network, which only adds up to 800,000 or so annual riders (Northstar had 722,600 riders in 2015 according to the APTA, and Amtrak recorded 138,631 boardings+alightings for the year, but that double-counts some people and doesn’t count others who rode straight on through). As I mentioned in my previous post, I noted that we only see regular passenger trains operating on about 375 miles (600 km) out of the state’s total 4,444 miles (7,152 km) of track.

Minnesota’s rail system grew dramatically from zero miles of track in 1860 to nearly 9,300 miles (14,970 km) in 1920, when the system reached its peak size. Since then, nearly 5,000 miles have been abandoned. Norway’s rail system is fairly small in comparison: At 2,540 miles (4,087 km), it represents just over half of the trackage than we lost over the last century. Despite that, they strongly outperform us when it comes to moving people around by rail.

Norwegian State Railways (NSB, for Norges Statsbaner) provides most intercity and commuter train service in Norway. In 2015, they carried 67.1 million passengers on trains within the country, plus another 5.3 million across the border on routes that connect to major cities in Sweden. Their in-country ridership is about 80 times the level we see here. NSB also turned a profit in the process.

NSB also operates a companion bus network, primarily under the Nettbuss name, which serves intercity and commuter passengers, though they also operate the local bus services in some cities. This bus system contributed another 75.3 million to the total number of passengers NSB carried in 2015.

Norway’s rail network grew at a much more deliberate pace than the system in Minnesota, perhaps due to the country’s challenging topography. Steep mountains force most population and infrastructure into the valleys between them and around the edges of lakes and fjords. However, Norwegians have become adept at using tunnels and bridges to make their own paths through the mountains and across large bodies of water. For instance, there are nearly 700 rail tunnels in the country, many of which are several miles long. Minnesota has very few rail tunnels, only a handful, and they’re mostly very short (the longest in the state are the Blue Line’s tunnels at MSP airport, and that’s outside of the scope of this article since that’s an urban light rail line rather than an intercity service).

It took until 1909 for the line from Oslo to Bergen to be completely built, a major accomplishment for the country at the time. The pace of growth picked up after the country was invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, as the new regime saw military advantage in having an expanded system and was willing to exploit the labor of prisoners of war to do it. The southern line to Kristiansand and Stavanger was completed in 1944, and the northern line from Trondheim toward Bodø was significantly expanded during the war. It finally reached that city in 1962 (passenger service included), a time where American railroads could hardly kill off their passenger and freight lines fast enough.

The country has continued to invest since then, including electrifying nearly 2/3rds of the rail network and adding new tunnels to straighten out and speed up older routes that used to skirt around major obstructions. You can see how old and new tunnels mix together on the Bergen Line for yourself, since the state TV broadcaster (NRK) created a “slow TV” recording of the entire 7-hour journey from Bergen to Oslo:

The train in that video operates as an express service near Bergen and Oslo, only stopping at major stations in those areas, but it makes many stops on the stretch between Myrdal and Hokksund. Despite that being a sparsely-populated region compared to the coasts with few larger towns, there are often significant numbers of passengers getting on and off at the stations. Some stretches of the Bergen Line have top speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), though most of it twists and turns enough that those speeds aren’t regularly achieved.

The vast majority of Norway’s rail system carries passenger traffic in addition to freight. Generally speaking, only short branch lines off of their mainline network (often just 10 to 20 miles in length) have been abandoned or converted to freight-only use. They also operate passenger trains more frequently. For instance, there are five round trips per day* on the 308-mile (496 km) route between Oslo and Bergen. A similar journey here might be between the Twin Cities and Green Bay (about 280 miles or 450 km).

*(Technically, only four trains go all the way to Bergen—one round-trip has its western endpoint in Voss, but there are 21 trains running from Voss to Bergen each weekday.)

There are seven round-trips on most days between Oslo and Stavanger (339 miles or 545 km), four round-trips between Oslo and Trondheim (340 miles or 548 km), and two round-trips between Trondheim and Bodø (453 miles or 729 km. A third daily train goes about 2/3rds of the way, to Mo i Rana).

In addition to those longer-distance services with their handful of daily trips, many of Norway’s larger cities have shorter-distance local services running much more frequently. Oslo, which has a population of 658,000 and is in a metro area of 1.7 million people, has the biggest commuter rail network, but Bergen (pop. 250,000), Stavanger (211,000), Trondheim (175,000), Skien/Porsgrunn (92,000), and Bodø (40,000) all have more frequent local trains connecting them to towns along the lines that operate to/through them, sometimes up to distances of about 100 miles away.

That gives me a lot of optimism that there’s unexploited potential in much of the rail system in Minnesota and other parts of the U.S. Of course, there are a lot of differences between our region and Norway which could throw a monkey wrench in the works. Cars are more expensive to buy and operate in Europe than they are here, and we have a much bigger network of freeways and other major highways than Norway does. But our region is pretty flat, meaning most ordinary rail lines are much straighter here than over there, and could sustain pretty high speeds if they were just rehabilitated and maintained to the right standard.

A potential rail network connecting cities of 5,000 and up, with cities marked

From my previous post, a map of a potential system for reconnecting cities of 5,000 people and up in Minnesota and neighboring states/provinces.

Could we ever get to the level of carrying 67 million passengers a year over the existing freight network here? It would be a big challenge, to be sure, but we can definitely create something better than what exists today. Nearly all of the cities in our state over 5,000 people (which account for 70% of the state’s population) are on or near the freight network, and those same lines go through many smaller towns that could also be served. Even if we just set up a core system of rail routes and used buses for many of the connections to smaller towns, we’d probably be a lot better off than we are now.

We have a network already in place that’s much more extensive than the Norwegian system. Many northern cities don’t have train service, and some cities are on islands that are hard or impossible to reach with ground transportation. In fact, Norway has one of the biggest air travel markets in Europe relative to its population, since many people don’t want to deal with the relatively slow, constantly curving routes of roadways and rail lines. People traveling by car also often need to use ferries to reach between islands and fjords, which further slows down journey times. Our flatter region isn’t nearly as difficult to build through.

The world recently passed a milestone where carbon dioxide is now saturating the atmosphere at a level of 400 parts per million, and it’s continuing to rise year over year, right along with global average temperature. To hold back that rise, we’ll have to do everything we can to shift people to using less carbon-intensive modes of travel. Biking, walking, and urban transit are good for local journeys, but it’s necessary to build up a good public transportation network for spanning the larger distances between cities too. We have an untapped resource sitting on the ground, and I hope we start using it to it’s fullest potential.

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23 Responses to Lessons from Norway for Minnesota Passenger Rail

  1. Joe October 6, 2016 at 9:04 am #

    Well Norway is largely in one straight line. Doesn’t that make rail way easier than the shape we have? If Fargo, Minneapolis, Duluth, Rochester and Mankato were all in one line, even if slightly farther apart than currently, it’d be a lot easier to justify rail, wouldn’t it?

    • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 9:24 am #

      Not exactly. The maps don’t do a great job of showing scale, but Norway is about 260 miles across at its widest point, which is similar to the distance across Minnesota near its “foot” (i.e., drawing a line straight west from La Crosse, Wisconsin to the border with South Dakota). Both roads and railways need to twist and turn a lot to weave through the mountains, so the distances on the ground are even longer — as I noted in the article, it’s a little over 300 miles by rail between Oslo and Bergen over a somewhat indirect route.

      • James Warden
        James Warden October 6, 2016 at 11:49 am #

        I don’t think you can waive it off just by looking at the dimensions of the land. The rail network mileage tells a different story. By your own figures, Norway has about 2,000 people for every mile of track (5.084M ppl/2,540 miles). Minnesota has about 40 percent less — 1,200 people for every mile of track (5.457M ppl/4,444 miles). We’d be at about 1,000 people for every mile of track — about half of Norway’s current ratio — if we expanded as you proposed in your last post (5.457M ppl/5,250 miles). So even if we could build out the infrastructure and encourage freight trains to make way for passenger trains, each Minnesotan would have about twice the cost burden as each Norwegian. That’s a significant difference in how the two jurisdictions can lay out their rail networks.

        • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

          Sure, that’s something to consider. However, we’ve undergone nearly 100 years of contraction in the rail network, and most of the best routes are the ones that remain. Our system carries a lot more freight than theirs — Norway only sees about 30 million tons shipped by rail annually compared to about 250 million tons here (though our figure is likely inflated by the movement of heavy taconite from the Iron Range). I think we can build on that foundation, which appears to be sustaining our network pretty well at its current size.

          The higher level of freight traffic creates some scheduling challenges, but we only really have to add more sidings on most corridors to be able to sustain an appropriate mix.

          • James Warden
            James Warden October 6, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

            This sounds like the rail counterpart to the well-known project management triangle. The project management triangle says even though we may want our projects to be completed a) quickly, b) cost effectively and c) to a high standard, you can only have two of those things at once. If you build it quickly and cheaply, for example, it won’t be high quality.

            With rail, you seem to be saying you want a) an extensive network, b) with good passenger services that also has c) a sufficient portion of freight traffic to offset the cost. That’s where I see the triangle come into play:
            — If you have an extensive network with sufficient freight to depress cost, you don’t have room for good passenger service (where we stand today).
            — If you have good passenger service and just enough freight to depress costs, you can’t have all that extensive of a rail network (where it sounds like Norway functions quite well today thanks to a smaller per-person rail mileage)
            — If you have an extensive network with good passenger service, there won’t be room for sufficient freight to depress passenger prices.

            Bottom line: The greater your per-person rail mileage is, the more you’re going to have to either accept higher prices or allow freight to displace passenger rail.

            This just echoes what the comments below are saying about the potential for extending routes to bigger Minnesota like Duluth or Rochester compared to extending it to all towns greater than 5,000 population.

            • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

              Why can’t the contributions of freight and passenger usage add together? This argument doesn’t make much sense to me.

              Single-tracked lines can run up to about two dozen freight trains per day, as long as there are enough sidings, and I think the limit can be higher under certain circumstances. BNSF’s main route between Fargo and Minneapolis carries 48 to 68 trains per day, according to MnDOT’s rail maps, a corridor which is mostly double-tracked. They manage some pretty high volumes west of Fargo, where the line is mostly single-tracked with sidings about every 10 miles. There’s double-tracking in certain areas that deal with more congestion.

              Most of Minnesota’s rail network is well below that level. The next-busiest lines are on the CP network and have 24 to 28 trains per day (mostly single-tracked). There are a few others in the 10-15 range, but there are many quieter lines with only 1-5 trains per day.

              A route’s capacity largely comes down to allowable track speed and the spacing between sidings or whether they’ve been converted to double-track (or 3 or 4 tracks). For the most part, we just need to rehabilitate lines to support higher speeds and add some sidings in order to create the necessary capacity, building on top of what has already been in place for more than a century.

              • James Warden
                James Warden October 6, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

                I’m not saying they can’t add together at all. It’s a spectrum that falls somewhere between unlimited room for passenger trains and no room for passenger trains. Perhaps there are places with sufficient space for passenger trains to simply be dropped on the line. I just don’t see any evidence that the routes passengers actually desire can be used without significant investment in infrastructure like the rehabilitation and sidings you refer to.

                And those aren’t small things. If they were cheap and easy, we’d have had the Northern Lights Express long ago — $600 million project even though it mostly uses BNSF track.

                Those also aren’t the types of costs we’re going to see big help with from the freight rail companies. Why would they help defray those costs, the cost of the upgrades necessary for higher speeds, the cost of new stations or similar improvements necessary for passenger rail but not freight? It’s not their problem, and they’re operating just fine without passenger rail.

                So while, yes, there is theoretically capacity in select spots, I’m just not sure how much of it is actually useable without major investments. That’s certainly not the way any of the groups promoting Minnesota’s rail corridors are acting, and I’d think it’d be in their own interests to move forward on their own if they could.

                Serious question since I’ll be the first to admit you know more about Minnesota’s rail network than I do: What stretches of track that aren’t already used for passenger rail could be used without any capital improvements reliably and efficiently (that is on time and of comparable speed to other modes of travel)? Of those, how many are in corridors likely to attract significant ridership?

                • Nathanael October 9, 2016 at 11:15 am #

                  Bluntly, for reliable passenger service, all routes, *including* the one the Empire Builder runs on, would need capital improvements, for two reasons:
                  (1) You have to build platforms for people to get on and off
                  (2) the freight railroads tend to allow the speed limits in various places to drop to really low levels through undermaintenance. These tracks aren’t really providing reliable freight service, either.

                  There are a number of routes where reliable passenger service would require platforms, and improvement of ties, rail, and grade crossings — but no new land or right-of-way. Just bringing it back up to the standard where it was in the 19th century.

                  A really obvious example is Twin Cities to Northfield MN, which would have very good ridership.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke October 6, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Great article and I learned a lot! I’m curious about the maintenance part of the picture you describe here, and also who, if anyone, is working on this vision? I’ve only heard of the Duluth and Rochester projects, and I’m not sure if those kinds of efforts are what you’re describing here.

    • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      What maintenance are you asking about, specifically? On the Norwegian system? They have a setup which is fairly common in European countries where one state-owned company owns and maintains the rail infrastructure (the Norwegian National Rail Administration, or Jernbaneverket), then other companies operate freight and passenger services on top of that. NSB is a state-owned company that provides most passenger service these days, though the country is planning to open up the market to competition so that private companies can operate certain routes.

      In Minnesota, as in much of the U.S., the freight lines are mostly owned by private companies, who also usually operate over their own lines, though there are some routes where multiple railroads run over tracks owned by just one of them. There are a few lines that are owned by public agencies, though. The short Kenilworth corridor that’s caused so much trouble with SWLRT is owned by Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority. There’s a longer stretch of railroad from Norwood Young America out to Hanley Falls which is owned by the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority, though freight operations are contracted out to a private company (Minnesota Prairie Line). There may be others in the state too, but I’m not aware of them. Over in Wisconsin, there are actually a number of lines that are owned by the state or other public agencies.

      In order to upgrade lines, the state would generally have to work with private companies, but I think the European experience shows that there’s a case to be made for having state-owned infrastructure. That makes it easier to coordinate construction and planning as a whole system rather than having to deal with companies that compete with each other instead of cooperating. But either way, we haven’t had a good state-level agency with enough power to really push the changes that are needed for expanded service.

      There isn’t anyone working on a vision as extensive as what I’ve mapped out for Minnesota and other nearby states/provinces — I’m writing about it to try and move the needle toward a bigger system. MnDOT has a statewide rail plan which includes routes to Duluth, Eau Claire, increased frequency to Chicago, a new line to Rochester, a line south to Albert Lea (with an obvious possible extension to Des Moines), southwest to Mankato (eventually heading to Sioux City, Iowa), a line west to Willmar (with an extension to Sioux Falls, South Dakota), and extra service to Fargo (with eventual extension to Winnipeg). That’s a reasonably good system, but it always felt like too much of a compromise to me, especially compared to our state’s very extensive highway system. I’ve just been struck by how much of the state is still connected by rail even though we’ve lost nearly 5,000 miles of it

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke October 6, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

        PS I read your article while riding on the Lakeshore Limited in upstate New York, which was pretty awesome. Though we’re currently stopped (for the first time) between Amsterdam and Schenectady watching the Mohawk River flow by.

        • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

          Cool! I hope you enjoy your trip. I think that train is one of the next couple on my list to ride.

  3. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig October 6, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    A couple other factors not mentioned yet to consider:

    – Gas prices. Norway’s gas prices and gas taxes are orders of magnitude above Minnesota’s.
    – Unlike Minnesota, Norway has topography that doesn’t allow for easy land access to much of the country.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker October 6, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      I think this is really the sum of it. If you want to travel from Oslo to the west coast, you have two realistic options: ride the train or take a flight. Driving simply isn’t feasible for reasons of cost and time. From Oslo, buses serve the Oslofjord, Oppland, and Telemark (the nearby regions) but otherwise it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to take the bus.

      In Minnesota, the availability of cars, the low price of gas, and the convenience of freeways, would cut deeply into the ridership for rail in ways that aren’t applicable in Norway.

    • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 11:29 am #

      Yes, gas prices and other costs are things that affect people’s behavior, but it just degrades the ability of public transportation to attract riders — it doesn’t remove it completely. NSB is able to operate their train system profitably, and that’s something that would be harder to achieve here. We should be able to have some routes that operate in the black here, though the overall system would probably need to be backfilled with government funding.

      There’s a lot of societal benefit from this sort of system which won’t necessarily be reflected by profits, so even if we can’t build something that makes money, it doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.

      Yes, Norway’s topography helps in some ways, but it also hurts them. Traffic is naturally channeled into valleys between the mountains. But Minnesota grew up with the railroad, with most towns being connected to the system at some point in their histories.

      It’s difficult to compare the densities of cities in Norway vs. Minnesota. Oslo is officially only about 3,500 people per square mile compared to Minneapolis’s 7,500/mi², which is not what you’d expect. Oslo’s incorporated area is about 8 times larger, which partly explains it. They’ve done a better job of having nice urban areas, but I don’t think it’s been all perfect either. Since Minnesota continues to grow at a similar pace, I think there’s a lot we could do to focus development in ways that helps create and improve nicer urban environments that make it more comfortable for people to switch away from driving.

    • Paul Morris October 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

      These were some of the thoughts that came to my mind, as well. Not only are gas prices about 4x U.S. prices, but import and excise taxes on vehicles also make them about 2x U.S. prices. As a result vehicle ownership and operation remains cost prohibitive for a meaningful segment of the population.

      The other data point that I think is germane here is the comparative extents of the highway networks. Despite the (relative) similarities in population and land area presented in the article, Norway’s highway network is small by comparison. There are essentially no freeways or even multi-lane highways outside of the urban areas. Together with the more extensive and higher-frequency rail network, this represents a major difference in the allocation of supply on the highway and passenger rail modes between Minnesota and Norway.

  4. helsinki October 6, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    A good analogy.

    I rode the Oslo-Bergen line about 6 weeks ago. You’re right about density: Norway is quite sparsely settled, with many isolated farms and few large towns. They’ve retained their ‘legacy’ infrastructure well – but then again, sometimes so have we (see: St. Paul Union Depot).

    Generally, I think major routes in MN would probably do well. MSP – Duluth and MSP – Rochester being the most likely candidates. One distinction that you omit is that Norway is mobbed with tourists, many of whom likely avoid driving due to the mountainous terrain and harsh weather (not to mention the eye-watering cost). MN gets a few tourists, but not that many – smaller MN cities in particular probably get almost none aside from in-state cabin-goers.

    You mention the more extensive MN highway network as an impediment to developing a statewide passenger rail network. In addition to this, you could probably add the deeply entrenched car culture, especially amongst the older generation. Cheap and easy parking, combined with the sheer unfamiliarity most people have with passenger rail makes it an even steeper climb.

    • Mike Hicks October 6, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

      Yeah, I’d be interested to learn more about how much travel comes from tourists versus residents. I hadn’t been able to get detailed info on which routes see the most traffic, but it’s probably the case that the vast majority is on relatively short trips using the commuter/local lines radiating out of Oslo and the other larger cities, and those trips are probably dominated by residents. The longer-distance lines likely see a lot more international tourism.

      Minnesota doesn’t have the attraction of ever-changing mountain vistas like Norwegian lines do, so we’d probably have fewer people taking trains just to take in the scenery. But I think there would be a good ability to help people rediscover the small towns through the state if we built up a bigger system. Many towns have had highway bypasses built around them, but the train tracks often still run right past town centers, so I think there’s a good potential here. Tourism here would probably be a lot more focused on the destinations rather than the journey to get there.

  5. David Markle
    David Markle October 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Adding to Adam Froelig’s observations above, I believe the consumer purchase price of automobiles is still also much higher in Norway than in the U.S. Nor does Norway have anything like our deeply ingrained automobile “culture” and habits.

    Europeans in general traditionally look to trains as the common mode of personal travel. But I think one will find differences between the countries; for example I suspect that for various reasons (topography being one) Swedes are more likely to take road trips than Norwegians. Mountain roads often make for slow travel (although I’ve enjoyed big vistas from them while driving or hitchhiking in Norway).

    All said, I certainly wish we had the kind of train service enjoyed by Europeans.

  6. Eric Ecklund October 6, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    Great article on a country I’m quite familiar with having lived in Oslo for four months. I was a weekly or more user of the NSB, usually just for exploring but sometimes part of my class work.

    I like the Oslo Commuter Rail system where there is local and regional service on each route and I think that is something we should try here. For example if the Northstar Line were split between local and regional trains, local trains would be more frequent and serve all stations between Minneapolis and Anoka. Regional Northstar trains would be less frequent and serve limited station stops between Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

    One thing we need to do to have a successful passenger rail system is to use diesel multiple units or electric multiple units just as the NSB does for most routes. They’re a lot more efficient and economical than our large diesel locomotives and the public perception favors trains that look like our light rail. Diesel locomotives would of course be used for longer distance routes (Minneapolis-Duluth, Minneapolis-Willmar, etc.).

  7. Scott October 6, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

    I also lived in Oslo for four months in college and took the train west to Bergen, north of Trondheim, and down to Copenhagen. Not all of the routes were super scenic and mountainous. It was pretty amazing how cheap and convenient it was to go pretty long distances. At the time there were very few high-speed routes, though.

    A big difference from MN is that the larger cities in Norway are all very walkable and have transit systems. Oslo’s is amazing with LRT/ subways, commuter rail, streetcars, ferries, and buses that create a seamless system that doesn’t compare even in Mpls. I can’t imagine traveling to Rochester, St. Cloud, Fargo/ Moorhead without a car. They are almost suburban in their urban development.

    Fun fact about Oslo- a huge portion of the City’s land area includes parks/ forests that surround the developed central city. So, the population density appears to be super low, but it gets skewed by this undeveloped area.

    Finally, I appreciate the shout-out to my MN hometown of Hanley Falls (population 302)!

  8. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer October 7, 2016 at 12:41 am #

    Nice piece. I’d love to know more about the financial/political mechanics of Norway’s transportation network. Is the NSB (commuter and inter-city rail) profitable? …or does it get subsidies from the government? How do Norway’s gas prices compare to the US (per gallon)? If they have much higher gas taxes, where do those funds go? Into their general fund or are they earmarked for transportation?

  9. SuperQ October 8, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    I was a student at UMN Duluth, but my family lived in MSP. It was a 2 hour drive between them. But I didn’t own a car while in school, so I wasn’t able to visit that often.

    The distance between the two cities is about 150 miles.

    A normal German inter-city train goes 200kph/125mph. This would cut the travel time to about 1 hour 20 min depending on how many stops it does.

    A full high-speed train can do over 300kph/185mph. This would cut the travel time to 50 min.

    Imagine being able to commute between Duluth and Minneapolis.

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