The line of least resistance
A recent news article in Dagens Nyheter highlights the delays on the Swedish railway this summer - a nuisance for both freight- and passenger traffic. The cause for most disruptions has been the overhead lines - an infrastructure susceptible even to small natural occurrances. To solve the problem, the Swedish Transport Administration has decided to contractually oblige contractors to faster send maintenance personell to the sites. In the light of contract law, this seems like an unsufficient solution - a line of last resistance to fix lines of low resiliance.
First, and this is fairly obvious: this contractual arrangement is reactive. It fixes something that has already caused damage and delays for passengers and/or the industry. As the railway needs to guarantee punctuality and reliability in order to compete with road-borne traffic, the Transport Administration should strive to prevet disruptions by all means, not just react to them quickly. Contractually obliging operators to quickly send maintenance personell to the sites is not a proactive course of action in this context.
Furthermore, contractually forcing contractors to send maintenace personell to the sites faster than before does not necessarily solve the problem any faster. Having electrical safety experts, accident site managers and other personnel present at the sites within 30 minutes in city regions, and in slightly longer time in the countryside, while not simultaneously stipulating a time limit to solve the problem, does not guarantee that the issues get solved faster.
Finally, the contractual arrangement misses the issue at hand: overhead lines are fragile and susceptible to events that occur often in Swedish nature - for example summer thundestorms, falling trees, snow which wheighs down tree branches, and birds that short-circuit the wiring. Even though maintenance personell arrive faster than before to the short-circuited overhead lines, the system will keep collapsing. This means many future disruptions and delays.
As a law firm which has for long been involved with infrastructure, Advokatfirman OEBERGS looks with confidence on the technical developments which may soon rid the railway sector from overhead lines. An example of this development is the recent launch of hydrogen trains in Germany and Great Britain, which need no overhead lines for their power supply. Until this happens in Sweden, the Swedish Transport Administration will need new, proactive contract solutions which increases the railway’s reliability.