RAILWAY infrastructure projects are likely to make up a major portion of the SKr 281bn ($US 43.8bn) committed by the Swedish government to new transport projects in the country's 2014-2025 Transport Plan which is expected to be approved in spring 2014.
Swedish transport authority Trafikverket submitted its recommendations for the plan to the government in June. And while the 20% increase in rail investment over the previous Transport Plan may appear to be music to the ears of suppliers, particularly in a tight European market, Trafikverket admits that it needs to do more to increase the number of bidders for project tenders in order to promote competition and ultimately drive down costs.
Mrs Katarina Norén, the organisation's purchasing director, says on average Trafikverket receives two to three bids for its projects. Yet on some occasions there has only been one bidder, which is a hindrance to providing value to the Swedish taxpayer.
A "matchmaking" event held at the Nordic Rail exhibition in Jönköping last month is one of a number of initiatives organised by the authority with the aim of sparking interest in the upcoming projects among suppliers who may already be active in Sweden, or are new to the market. Following an introductory session where each of the projects was presented, suppliers were invited to meet the project managers of schemes during 20 minute one-to-one interviews.
Norén says this was not just an opportunity for Trafikverket to identify which companies it may want to work with in the future and encourage more to bid for its projects, but for suppliers to consider at an early stage whether they are in a position to bid for a specific project before committing significant time and resources.
"If we can increase the number of bidders from one to two, to three to five, that would make a huge difference to us," Norén says.
The blue ribbon project of the Transport Plan, and one that is certainly generating a lot of interest, is the proposal to build Sweden's first 320km/h line between Stockholm and Gothenburg. After years of discussion and various proposals, the project appears to be finally taking shape, with development now well underway on the Stockholm - Linköping and Borås - Gothenburg sections.
However, it remains unclear when the Linkoping - Jönköping - Borås section of the route will be approved by the government. Norén told IRJ that this phase of the project is currently "resting" because no money was allocated towards it in the Transport Plan. She said that despite the plan allocating 20% more to rail investment overall than its predecessor, a greater emphasis on infrastructure maintenance means there is simply not enough money to fund every proposed project.
Nevertheless Norén does not feel that this will hinder completion of the high-speed scheme in the long-term. She says the benefit to Swedish society of offering a 2h 30min journey time between its two largest cities, which will take planes out of the sky and cars off the road, has universal public and political support, and is also likely to lead in the long-term to the development of the Jönköping - Malmö high-speed project to form a Y-shaped network.
"There appears to be a consensus now in Sweden that investment in rail is a good thing," Norén says. "It used to be that the left tended to back rail and the right road, but now both parties are behind these projects, which means even if there is a change of government they are not going to take money away from them."
The Stockholm - Linköping project involves building 154km of new railway infrastructure from Järna southwest of Stockholm to Linköping at a cost of SKr 35bn, with funding set to come partly from the European Union through the Trans-European Networks (TEN-T) programme. The line will be double-track, and will include 20km of tunnels and 155 bridges totalling 10km. The link will also improve access to Stockholm Skavsta, Sweden's third largest airport.
Trafikverket's project manager for the Stockholm - Linköping scheme, Mr Ali Sadeghi, says that dependent on government approval of plans for the project, which is expected next spring, Trafikverket will award a SKr 1.1bn design contract in 2014. He says according to the government's infrastructure bill, construction of the project cannot commence before 2017 and the aim is to open the line in 2028.
Planning is also underway on the 60km Gothenburg - Borås section of the project, which is estimated to cost SKr 15bn and will include a link to Gothenburg Landvetter Airport. A tender is set to be announced in the first half of 2014 for the project with construction expected to start in 2020.
The new double-track line will release capacity on existing lines for freight, a move which Norén says will help to reduce maintenance costs and has the universal backing of Sweden's railfreight sector.
In addition to the high-speed programme, the Transport Plan calls for the nationwide rollout of ERTMS at an estimated cost of SKr 28-33bn by 2030. Sweden's first ERTMS project is the Southern Main Line between Stockholm and Malmö which is scheduled for commissioning in 2017. Trafikverket's second priority is the line between Luleå and Narvik, Norway, with implementation beginning in 2018 and will be followed by a gradual rollout on the remainder of the country's network up to 2030.
Sweden is the first country to pilot a rollout of ERTMS Level 3, and results of this project are expected by the end of the year. However, ERTMS project manager Mr Anders Karlsson says that despite this trial, installing ERTMS Level 2 is the main objective for the national scheme and it will be deployed on around 95% of the network. He says that SKr 1.5bn will be spent annually on the ERTMS scheme from 2017 and with Trafikverket adopting a vehicle-first strategy, the priority for the project is to develop areas where rolling stock is fitted with suitable onboard equipment.
Installing onboard equipment is estimated to cost SKr 2.5-4.4bn and after the Swedish government said it would only fund trackside installations, Trafikverket says that rolling stock owners are solely responsible for financing this element of the project. Some European Union funding is available to support these installations with SKr 160m paid out so far.
The other significant new-build project included in the plan is the West Link project in Gothenburg which is estimated to cost SKr 20bn at 2009 prices and will effectively double capacity for commuter traffic in the city as well as extend its potential labour market. The new 8km double-track railway includes a 6km tunnel under central Gothenburg and three new city-centre stations.
Design work is scheduled to be completed next month, with invitations to tender due to be issued in 2015 ahead of awarding contracts in 2016. Work is expected to start in 2018 and will be completed in 2028.
Increasing capacity and reducing journey times are priorities for many of the other railway infrastructure projects included in the Transport Plan, which are:
• The Hallsberg - Degerön track-doubling project which will increase freight capacity to and from northern Sweden and the continent. Tender documents for the section through Hallsberg, one of Sweden's busiest junctions with around 300 train movements per day, are expected to be released in autumn 2014, with construction beginning in spring 2015. This section of the project has an estimated cost of SKr 830m. Tenders for the design and build contract for the Stenkumla - Dunsjö section, which includes 2km of new double track, and 11km of upgrades to increase axleloads, will be released next spring with construction to start in spring 2015.
• The West Line track-doubling project which involves building 7.5km of new double track, including through a new 3.1km tunnel under the centre of Varberg. The project is estimated to cost SKr 2.9bn at 2009 prices and the process of appointing design consultants is underway. Construction is due to take place between 2019 and 2024.
• Improvements to the Gothenburg Port Line, the rail link to Sweden's largest port, include increasing capacity at Kville shunting yard, building new double-track sections including through a new 1.2km tunnel between Eriksberg and Pölsebo, and from Pölsebo to Skandiahamnen.
• A Skr 3.8bn project to four-track the 8km Flackarp - Arlöv section of the Malmö - Lund West mainline. This includes lowering the tracks to reduce noise in sections totalling 5km in Hjärup and Åkarp as well as adding a new 400m-long tunnel in Åkarp.
As well as new-build projects, retaining high levels of investment in infrastructure maintenance is major priority for the Transport Plan, with SKr 81bn earmarked for operations, maintenance and reinvestment in existing railway infrastructure.
Banverket, which was solely responsible for railway infrastructure before Trafikverket was formed in 2010, began outsourcing its maintenance activities in 2001.
Six or seven of 35 available maintenance contracts are now let every year in five-year contracts plus two options for subsequent one year extensions, with each covering 250-1500km sections and worth €23-81m. Infranord is the largest supplier with 64% of the market, followed by Strukton with 16%, VR Track with 8%, Balfour Beatty with 8%, Infratec with 3% and NCC with 1%. Again, Trafikverket says that it aims to increase the number of bidders for these contracts throughout the duration of the Transport Plan in order to drive down costs.
Swedish minister for infrastructure Ms Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd emphasised the importance of maintaining what Sweden already has during her address to Nordic Rail's main plenary session. She also said that Swedish railways had reached "the capacity ceiling" and are now "bumping against it."
"We are committing SKr 522bn to the transport plan and we are currently considering how to allocate these funds," Elmsäter-Svärd said. "When we sent this figure to Trafikverket we also sent a reminder that our aim is to build our society. We need to remember to build infrastructure for public transport that offers cohesion with homes and places of industry."
Trafikverket certainly appears confident that the infrastructure investments included in its recommendations for the plan will meet these requirements and that transport in Sweden will be in a much better place by 2025. It is also optimistic that domestic and international suppliers are willing and able to meet its expectations over the next few years as Sweden establishes itself as one of Europe's most dynamic railway markets.