It’s early, so early in fact, that just a couple of seagulls accompany him on his way to work. They circle the first rays of sunlight falling on the streets of Gothenburg, squawking a bit, almost as if they were wishing Gunnar Ek a good morning. As they do almost every morning at 5:45 a.m. Ek is meticulously dressed, wearing a suit and tie; the morning air is brisk, he takes a deep breath. “Well, let’s go!” he says. Ek sets off towards the main train station. A new workday has begun.
He won’t make it to the office until four hours later. It’s located 457 kilometers east of Gothenburg, at the other end of Sweden, in the capital, Stockholm. Ek has been commuting to work, usually several times a week, since 1991. A Gothenburger through and through, he doesn’t want to move away from his beloved city. “Commuting isn’t a problem for me,” he says. “But when I look beyond Sweden’s borders, I see a great number of high-speed trains in Europe and around the world that could shorten the travel time. Yet not in a highly developed country like Sweden. It’s a crying shame.”
The good news is: change is coming. As the planners themselves explain, Sweden will be building a high-speed railway project within the next two decades that will influence mobility for generations to come. “A transformation so enormous, it’s only comparable to those of the nineteenth century, when the main railways still in use today were first laid down,” they say. The current project’s title: En ny generation järnväg — a new generation railway.
Right now, the project is still in its early stages, and is divided into individual construction phases, each over a period of several years. This year, the first work will begin in the east of the country, and things really get going in 2020. The goal is to have the country’s most important corridors able to handle high-speed trains by the year 2035. The benefits of this major project speak for themselves: the new railway lines will relieve pressure on the current extremely tightly scheduled rail traffic, they will lead to more environmentally friendly mobility for Swedish citizens, and they will boost the economy. At least that’s the theory.
But particularly for commuters like Gunnar Ek, the high-speed railway network would bring direct personal benefits. It’s only worth commuting if trains zip reliably across Sweden. Right now, Ek needs three hours to get from Gothenburg to Stockholm. With a round trip, one fourth of the day is already used up. In a high-speed train, it would take just under two hours each way.