Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Is snow a political issue in Norway?

By David Allison
BBC Scotland

Reporter David Allison filming in Norway
Filming in temperatures of -15C can prove difficult

In Scotland snow and ice can dominate the political agenda, as happened recently at First Ministers Questions.

When the trains need an emergency timetable, the roads become impassable, and pedestrians choose to walk with the traffic on the streets rather than the icy pavements you can see why.

It could be that Scotland's big freeze is a generational one-off, not to be repeated for 20 or 30 years.

But what if we did have to get used to colder winters happening more often?

We'd have to learn to do better.

So, go to Norway they said. Fly to Oslo and see how they do things there.

Exiting Oslo Torp airport terminal at about nine o'clock in the morning was a shock to the system.

The sun was barely up and it was probably still not far off the overnight low of -15C.

Living with it

The other shock to the system was the ice everywhere on the walk to the bus.

When it gets beyond -8C salt ceases to work so it's either a case of chipping it off or living with it.

Mostly they seem to live with it.

On the roads too they live with the ice and snow.

Councillor Joran Kallmyr is Oslo City Council's transport chairman.

He explained that on main roads they only clear the snow if it is more than 3cm deep.

Side streets only get done if they have 5cm.

Imagine if they tried that in Scotland.

There's a lot of complaining. When the snow comes everyone says how can this be a surprise. Sometimes they get angry at me
Joran Kallmyr
Oslo City Council

The trick of course is snow tyres, made of softer rubber and with bigger treads, and the result is that getting around by road is relatively easy.

And if you are really snowbound you get them with studs, but you will pay a charge of around £3 or £4 a day for driving around the city because of the damage they cause to the roads.

But don't for one minute think people are happy living with the snow and ice.

Ask around and it's hard to find anyone who doesn't think the council could do better on the roads, and especially the icy pavements.

Cllr Kallmyr knows from bitter experience that snow is just as much a political issue in Oslo as it became for us in Scotland.

He said: "There's a lot of complaining. When the snow comes everyone says how can this be a surprise. Sometimes they get angry at me."

So what about the railways?

The 5pm Oslo Central to Drammen is the Norwegian equivalent of the 5pm Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley.

It left on time, but only so not to block the platform for the next train.

My journey, ironically to see a state of the art train de-icing operation, which should have taken 45 minutes took one hour and 50.

Huge problems

It happened too often the passengers told me.

"We live in Norway. We get snow every year, so it's amazing that they get so surprised every time."

And from one woman more signs that snow is a political issue.

"The politicians haven't being investing in the railway for the last 15 years," she said.

You could have heard the same words spoken somewhere near Polmont last week in Scotland.

The de-icing plant was an experience.

Filming a train being de-iced
Trains have to be pre-de-iced before another de-icer is used

We had to wait in a deserted railway yard for 30 minutes in -9.5C to see a train being de-iced.

When you've been travelling since 4am standing still in cold like that tests your sense of humour to destruction.

It's so cold they have to use a pre de-icing de-icer before they can actually de-ice the train by blasting hot water at it in a huge shed.

To give you an idea of what they are up against, one driver coming over the mountains into Oslo reported the outside temperature to be -51C.

Norwegian Railways operations director is Oystein Risan, an engineering graudate from Glasgow University, said: "We have winter every year so people expect us to cope with it."

He said that using every trick in the book they still had huge problems clearing snow and ice, and that while 95% of trains are running, 25% were delayed.

Back in Oslo, Akershus Fortress which overlooks the harbour reminds you that people have been living here with the climate for a while. The castle was built in 1290.

But in Oslo, the tenth most expensive city on the planet, and despite hundreds of years of experience, I can confirm that snow really is a political issue in Norway.

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