Optioneering

The choices are getting more and more numerous as I delve deeper into the transport options available between here and Norway. I’ve tried to compare them all for a departure on the final day of our classes, Friday the 20th of December. This doesn’t give the best results as Fridays are inevitably more expensive than weekday searches but that’s how I’ve crunched the numbers below.

So it’s probably best to use a numbered system of some sort (the screenshot below is of my Excel file for this purpose)

Optioneering screenshot

1. The ferry option: 130 pounds, and 38 hours travel time, 2 nights aboard ferries (the cheapest options have been selected as far as berths go)

  • Train to Harwich Port (Greater Anglia service with 2 changes)
  • Ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg (overnight) in western Denmark. DFDS Ro-Pax ferry: Roll On roll off cargo and Passenger boat – a funny looking hybrid that allows for trucks and private cars to be taken aboard in addition to passengers. Check out what the Dana Sirena looks like when it has just crashed into Harwich port. 
  • Train from Esbjerg to Hirtshals in northern Denmark (a rather expensive DSB service with 2 or 3 changes).Image courtesy Copenhagenize
  • Ferry from Hirtshals to Stavanger overnight onboard the world’s only (or first) LNG powered ferry, Fjordline’s MS Stavangerfjord, which began operations this year. Incidentally it’s had major teething problems with timetables on the Denmark to Norway route because of the Norwegians perceived risk of refueling LNG whilst passengers are boarding (the Danish do both simultaneously). Unfortunately the service is only cheap if you opt for an airline type of seat (so called sleeperettes).

2. The Coach option. 175 pounds and 53 hours travelling time overnight-ting on the bus between Brussels and Copenhagen, and then in Oslo before taking a train (or coach) to Stavanger the following morning.

  • Train (or coach) from Cambridge to London (First Capital Connect – train or National Express – coach)
  • Coach from London to Oslo. (Eurolines) Amazing that such a service exists but this is because it has transfers in Brussels and Copenhagen. I don’t think anybody likes coaches enough to want to do this particular route (overnight on the bus and a total of 34 hours with minimal breaks at the transfers).
  • Train (or coach) Oslo to Stavanger after spending the night in Oslo (I think I know enough people to do this freely). NSB services at this time of year are not especially cheap but it is a very scenic journey normally.
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3. The train option. As outlined by the man in Seat 61. For my particular journey: 293 pounds and 41 hours (finishing with the same ferry as outlined in the ferry option from Denmark to Norway).

  • Regular train to Cambridge, then Eurostar high speed train London St Pancras to Brussels. Quite an expensive service on a Friday evening – 89 pounds one way! This puts it at equal worst value for km/£ in my Excel table.
  • Inter city express (ICE 3) train from Brussels midi to Cologne. A pretty high speed service at somewhat better value to the Eurostar.
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  • City Night Line train (Borealis) from Cologne to Odense in central Denmark overnight. You can make yourself dizzy seeing the inside of the 6 person couchettes here courtesy of 360cities.net.
  • Train from Odense to Hirtshals in Denmark with DSB, as before. Quite expensive.
  • Ferry, same as mentioned in option 1 with Fjordline. An alternative, (which requires quicker timing) is taking the quick RO-PAX service with Colorline from Hirtshals to Kristiansand (3.5 hr journey). And from Kristiansand taking the NSB train to Stavanger.

4. and 5. In my table I was getting sick of seeing such long journey times at high cost so at this point I checked out the cost of using one of these bad boys.

  • With Norwegian airlines, pictured above, you fly from Gatwick and the costs are 88 pounds for a total time (to plane touchdown in Stavanger Sola airport) of 5.5 hours.
  • For the same amount of time flying from Heathrow with British airways  the cost is 107 pounds. Worryingly the mid week options for flights are much much cheaper again.

I should perhaps make mention of Jack’s quite good point to me when I was telling him about my difficulty in finding economically reasonable methods of travel excluding flying. The alternative choices probably still release some degree of emissions (my back of the envelope estimates are approximately 1/4 that of flying). Given also the big time penalty in taking slow forms of transport, why not spend the extra 20-30 hours saved by flying planting trees in Norway to make up for the extra emissions.

Potentially that could end up being a lot of trees. However it’s winter in Norway and the ground is probably frozen and I’ve set myself a challenge which doesn’t make sense economically that I’m going to follow through. Alternative and less attractive options gain traction when people adopt them right? …

6. and 7. The final two options I’ve assessed are freighter ships with DFDS. The shipping company runs regular services from both Immingham and Ghent to Brevik in Norway (closer to Oslo than Stavanger). They can give a berth with sufficient notice to passengers travelling on these routes but the cost is relatively high. Generally my guess would be that people do this if they are serious about taking a vehicle across to Norway but want to avoid driving it all the way through western Europe. Brevik is near to Larvik, from where trains with NSB can be found to connect back onto the main line from Oslo to Stavanger.

  • The RORO (roll on roll off) cargo ship service from Immingham leaves twice weekly to Brevik for a cost of 180 pounds per person, making the total cost 261 pounds over 43 hours travel time (note that this involves leaving Cambridge on Saturday rather than Friday as set out in the beginning of these comparisons). It also doesn’t take into account the fact that I would be boarding the vessel at about 04:00 am on Sunday morning and would hence probably require somewhere to spend Saturday evening in a small port town.
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  • From Ghent to Brevik there is a similar RORO vessel departing once a week on Friday evenings. Total cost of this trip 352 pounds and 50 hours travel time. The only upside is that I do not need to worry about finding a place to stay for any evenings of this journey as both of them are spent on board the boat.

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As a side note to the itineraries above (don’t ask me to be your travel agent please btw), there are some other interesting factoids I’ve found whilst searching all this stuff.

  1. MS Stavangerfjord is pioneering the large ferry world with LNG. This is being done more and more with commercial and freight journeys too (excluding LNG tankers which have been burning LNG for some time).
  2. Travelling with cargo vessels probably won’t ever go mainstream but it can be considered to be super green in the sense that the vessel is not intended to be making money by carting passengers around (although increasing numbers do). It’s also quite expensive but that hasn’t stopped some cool companies helping people set up such adventures (UK to Melbourne 41 days and just under £4000…).
  3. I’m not a complete looney in wanting to do this. People have done the same journey before including the Seat61 guy I’ve mentioned before and a few others like Paul Miles on Greentraveller. They’re also 1 to 2 generations older and probably have the considerably more wealth (and maybe time).
  4. Learnt a bit more about ships and trains. Finding out the exact ships doing particular freight routes is difficult and requires trawling the internet for some time on port calling sites like Marine Traffic.

So what have I learnt? I don’t think I ever doubted that planes would be fastest and cheapest. I am a little disappointed in the cost of high speed train travel but I suspect if I re-run the numbers for mid week this could be a more attractive option. I think at the end of the day however that the only way to justify doing one of these journeys is either to do so for the different nature of travel (particularly for the cargo ships) or to be able to visit people or places on the journey. 

“The journey is the destination” say proponents of the degrowth movement. I know a few people in Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark. Maybe it’s time to reconnect with some friends old and new and make the most of the journey!

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