SJ: "Gov't to Blame for Train Chaos"

Updated 7:28 PM

Swedish Railways, SJ, blamed in part the government for the chaos in Sweden's collective public transport system on Monday. The weekend's heavy snowfall and strong winds kept much the country's train transport shut down, and the better part of the metro, buses, and commuter trains was of service, with thousands of people stranded or severly delayed in temperatures reaching -22 degrees as a result.

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, CEO Jan Forsberg apologized for the chaos, but said that SJ has “pointed out to the government many times” that “the railroad tracks are overloaded and need to be built out.”

“Sweden is also the second worst in Europe in investing in continuous upkeep of the rails,” he added. “We have not expanded in the same tact as traffic has increased.”

The excuse didn’t comfort many travellers stuck throughout the country, however.

"It's pure chaos. There's complete confusion everywhere. We live in Sweden, right? As far as I now there's a winter every year…" an angry travel said at the Stockholm Central Station where passengers had to wait up to 12 hours, only to find out that their train won't depart at all. The extreme winter has not only covered most of Sweden's soil with a thick layer of snow, it has also paralyzed major parts of the railway net.

Due to the masses of snow and ice brakes were blocked, and with the low temperatures on Monday many engines could not be started. That left many trains throughout the country standing still.

In Stockholm, the center of Sweden's business and economy, people were being advised to stay at home unless they really had to go somewhere - advice that not too many of the city's 1.6 million inhabitants obeyed. Subway traffic going above the ground was completely cancelled and replaced by busses, and the total number of subways on duty was limited. Too short intervals between the subways were considered dangerous after a train was unable to stop on Saturday evening - driving past three stations, at hardly reduced speed.

"It's chaotic right now, to say the least. But we expected the situation to be like this. That's why we asked Stockholmers to stay at home IF they can," said Mia Adolfsson, press officer of Stockholm Public Transport, SL.

Amidst the huge anger among the population, the government already held a crisis meeting last week with Swedish Railways and the Swedish Rail Administration. But another meeting seems to be coming up in due course. The main focus of the anger: why wasn't the Swedish rail traffic prepared for all this?

"We hope that we will be able to use the tracks again - at least gradually. And then it will get better from day to day. But we will have to deal with the impact of the current breakdown for the rest of this week," Tommy Jonsson of the Swedish Rail Administration told Swedish Radio International.

The minister for infrastructure Åsa Torstensson of the Center Party was quoted as saying that the Swedish Rail Administration has not done its job properly when it comes to maintenance. And she pointed out that she plans to summon the responsible people for another crisis meeting in a few weeks time.

Torstensson angrily told the news agency TT that she has been granting the Rail Administration higher budgets every year in order to keep the traffic going and to fix flaws in the constantly ailing technical system. Faulty signals, old trains and a railway net that has not been extended since the 19th century have led to delays and cancellations even in the warmer parts of the year, especially in the Greater Stockholm area. Now, the strong winter is making things even worse.

Minister Åsa Torstensson conceded though that there is a natural boundary to what human planning can avoid. And the massive impact of the current weather situation is obviously a factor that cannot be overlooked - despite all the justified criticism, Torstensson added.