Keeping up the tradition of taking trains from my last Christmas, I’m going to avoid flying for my Christmas travel needs this year. Admittedly the distance isn’t incredibly long within Norway, so such journeys are not so exceptional as England to Norway without flying.
Christmas Travels 2014
My starting point this time around is Trondheim and I’m heading to Sandnes to celebrate Christmas (567km as the crow flies). I’m based in Trondheim now that I have finished my Masters program and commenced a PhD (in sustainable transportation! or rather bicycle planning). More on that another day though.
The only real options available to me for this trip are basically to take the plane or train. Making life significantly easier than last time!
And since I had already decided it would be a good idea not to fly, then all I had to do was find an appropriate ticket for the train (with Norwegian State Railways, NSB).
Environmental Footprint of the Train Journey
NSB has a nifty little calculator on their website which also provides a small summary during the booking process comparing your environmental friendliness compared to the most common alternative (short distances are car and long distances are plane generally).
The calculator takes into account the average NSB train passenger utilisation (a disappointingly low 34%), together with that of the average domestic plane route (62%). It should of course take into account the different length of travel – since the train journey is routed via Oslo and needs to wind its way around many mountain ranges in central Norway.
During Christmas season, both the plane and train are likely to be very near to 100% utilisation, so we could fairly safely assume that this particular journey performs slightly better than the stated average of 3.9 times less emissions than plane travel.
Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see an environmental comparison of the train and plane and some other travel modes.
How much did it set me back?
Cost of the standard train ticket: 449NOK. My girlfriend will meet me in Oslo to join the second part of the journey to Sandnes (a night train). Her ticket is 299NOK. So a very affordable trip really. But we decided to splurge a little and get a sleeping cabin for an additional 850NOK (combined).
So looking at my component of the costs:
Trondheim – Oslo (7h 30m) : 224 NOK (about half the journey length)
Oslo – Sandnes (8h 25m): 225 (other half of the standard ticket) + 425 NOK (half the cabin cost)
Total: 874 NOK (£81.40)
Unlike my train journey in 2013, this is very cost competitive with the plane. A direct plane (+ train to the airport) in the same range of dates would cost around 1450NOK whilst an indirect one routed via Oslo would cost 900NOK (yep doesn’t make sense). Either way, by taking the train you’re basically making money*!
*All financial advice provided in this blog needs to be taken with three heaped teaspoons of salt.
But surely you had other options to get from Trondheim to Sandnes? Well… you can read on for the other options I looked into.
Were there other Options?
Besides the plane and train already discussed, there were a few other options, but they weren’t serious contenders due to costs or lack of comfort.
A ferry called Hurtigruten travels up and down the Norwegian coastline all year long between Bergen and Kirkenes. It’s a very scenic way of getting around, but is effectively a cruise ship with monopoly on it’s route, so costs quite a bit to use as a transportation means (people only take it because they like the idea of boating around the Norwegian coast).
Hurtigurten doesn’t travel as far south as Stavanger (Stavanger/Sandnes is a dual city), so an alternative option needs to be found for the Bergen – Stavanger leg of the journey. Until the end of last year, there was a regular Norled ferry that operated on this route. I took it in Summer 2013, a few months before it stopped.
Luckily there is is an alternative since Fjordline has recently started running the MS Stavangerfjord direct from Bergen to Stavanger (and onwards to Hirtshals in Denmark). I mentioned this LNG cruiser a year ago in my travel planning.
But the ferries aren’t serious contenders due to the costs, at about 1800NOK (double the train cost including sleeping cabin), and fairly questionable environmental benefit (or possibly none).
There are many bus routes around Norway, with generally quite terrible websites for booking any ticket. The fastest and cheapest option is the Lavprisekspressen route Trondheim – Oslo, Oslo – Sandnes (2 separate bookings).
The price for both is 938NOK with a 25% discount available for student ID, making it the cheapest option, but at the expense of being not exceptionally comfortable relative to the train.
There’s a very winding bus route (so maybe also scenic?) that goes from Trondheim to Bergen called the Fjordekspressen (14 hours long!). This can be booked together with the Kystbussen to take you from Bergen to Stavanger (5h 30m). The total price comes to 1135NOK for a full price ticket which is quite a lot for nearly 20 hours of motion sickness!
Environmental Summary – all modes Trondheim to Sandnes
The data that is used in this graph I created surprised me quite a bit. Because the impact of train travel is probably less than 24 hours of my own respiration. I suspect this is based on the assumption that NSB buys renewable electricity, but I’m not 100% convinced this is true until I hear it from NSB. The data on per kilometre CO2 footprint comes from Vestforsk.no.
It looks like train travel is too good to be true if the environmental aspect of transport is what motivates you. We’ll revisit the figures that make up this graph in a later post but for now the train game tradition continues…