Monday, 5 August 2013


The last stop on my Norway tour took me to Trondheim (2-4 Aug 2013), where there is a single tram line to explore. There is also a regular regional train that goes north from Trondheim on the non-electrified line to Bodø, reaching Steinkjer hourly on workdays, less frequent on weekends, with a stop at the airport (who knows why the station at the airport is not called Lufthavn or Airport or anything like that but Vaernes, when there is nothing else but the airport – or is Vaernes for Norwegians like 'Heathrow' or 'JFK'???). Also interesting on the transport side is Trondheim's bicycle lift, a peculiar mechanism that helps you climb the hill just east of the old bridge, but hardly anybody used it when I was there and it seems pretty tough, as you need to keep your right leg stiff for quite a while...

When I arrived in Trondheim and saw the track work going on at the city centre loop, I thought I wouldn't get a chance to ride the tram, as the timetable available also online said, that there would be replacement buses as long as these works last. So I set out to climb the hills to Lian on a bus and then explore the line walking down on foot. All by myself on this bus on a Saturday mid-morning, I was positively surprised when after a few minutes I had to change to the tram at Ila, where there is a track triangle so trams can reverse. I was also the only passenger on the tram, until a father and his two kids plus their three bicycles joined us at Munkvoll. The ride up the mountain was pretty fast and smooth. As the line is mostly single-track beyond Ila, trams meet at Nordre Hoem during 30-minute headways in the summer (trams run every 15 minutes during normal season). Two vehicles are enough for this 30-minute service.

The Gråkallbane, as it is traditionally known, carries the route number 1 in the AtB bus network, so unlike the NSB Lokaltog, it is fully integrated into the system. 85 NOK (11 EUR) are required for a 24-hour ticket, and 34 NOK for 90 minutes if bought from a machine – but funnily, there are hardly any ticket vending machines as such at bus stops (none at tram stops), but instead you need to search for a car parking ticket machine, which also sells bus tickets – but be aware that the tickets are valid from the time you buy them, so choose a vending machine near your bus stop! 24-hour tickets are also available at kiosks, but no idea how you activate them, I guess the driver does that as you have to show all tickets to them anyway.

The bus/tram map is a bit like that in Bergen, helps you to get a general idea, but otherwise horrible. At least it can be seen at some bus stops.

Back to the tram, or trikken as they say in Norway. The Gråkallbane is just a remainder of what used to be a slightly larger system until the rest was closed in the 1980s, also this line was closed in 1988 (a few years after they bought the present trams!), but as it only runs on city streets between the central loop and Ila, it was rescued and reopened two years later after popular demand (and the impossibility to sell the 2.6 m wide trams running on metre gauge). The largest part of the line, from Ila upwards, is on a seperate right-of-way running between the houses, not parallel to the roads. Up to Søndre Hoem you can enjoy a nice view of the city and Nidelva Valley. There are now some signs that a little upgrading is underway at some stops with more clearly defined platforms, whereas at some other stops the platform is a grass-covered affair, in the case of the inbound Bergsligata stop, for example, not recognisable at all, if it wasn't for a lonely tram stop pole without any further information located between the trees nearby. Many stops have wooden shelters with a small timetable, but in most cases, not even the name of the stop is displayed anywhere. The stops are announced visually and acoustically on the trams, though. But finding a stop in this low-density neighbourhood dominated by single-family homes is reserved for the locals. So, in many respects, the line is far below any standards expected from a modern light rail line, but looking at the sad political support it has had over many decades, it is a miracle it still exists. With the Bergen light rail now so popular, there may be some kind of envy reaction from the Trondheim politicians to do more for urban rail transport.

There have been proposals for an extension to the eastern suburbs, but considering the topography, this would require some tunnelling. Two routes, however, seem pretty obvious, the first is to extend the existing line east through the city centre and to the new docklands developments in the Nedre Elvehavn area and further out along the main road. A second route should no doubt run north-south from the railway station along Prinsens gate across the main north-south bridge (Elgeseter Bru) to an area to the south of the river where there is a large hospital complex plus a huge university campus (the southern part of which is served by Lerkendal station, the southern terminus of the aforementioned hourly regional train). Looking at the bus map, it becomes clear that the main bus corridor also runs south here and further on the Heimdal area, where there are quite dense housing estates. So, if Trondheim (180,000 inh.) finally decides to join the Scandinavian light rail boom, there is some potential here.


Trondheim Tram at UrbanRail.Net

Thursday, 1 August 2013


My Norway tour this summer brought me by train (8+ hours) from Oslo to Stavanger, where as of now there is just a suburban rail service (running every 15 minutes between Stavanger and Sandnes!), although there are plans for a light rail system, too. Then I took an express boat (4.5 hours) to Bergen, where I had two days (30-31 July 2013) to explore the city and its transport system. I had been here once in 1996, but Bergen didn't have an urban rail system at that time.

To start off, Bergen is one of the most expensive places I have been to, and not only transport-wise. Here, a 24-hour ticket costs 110 NOK, which is around 14 EUR, hardly beatable by any other European city, and considering what you get for it and that even in Oslo with its huge rail network you only pay 80 NOK for 24 hours, this is completely overpriced. And whereas in Oslo you can also take frequent NSB trains, the Bergen Skyss daypass does not even include the frequent shuttle train between Bergen and Arna, a suburb to the east of the Ulriken tunnel. Skyss is responsible for transport integration in the entire Hordaland province, but for some reason, they seem not to get on well with NSB, the Norwegian National Rail company (I assume this is the reason they simply ignore their Bergen station, see below!). Although partly of use for urban transport, too, the Fløibanen (funicular) is, of course, not included in the Dagskyss either and costs another 80 NOK to go up and down.

Skyss would not get a great mark if I had to evaluate them, their bus/light rail map is basically useless, just a very simplified diagram which helps you a bit to get orientated, but a complete mess in the city centre area. Neither does it show all the stops, and anyway, it is not displayed anywhere but in the timetable booklet. The timetable booklet, however, does not even show all the stops for each line, not even on the line diagram, so trying to check out the correct location and names of the stops on trolleybus line 2, I got quite desperate, not even walking along most of the line did convince me that I got it right, as some of the stops are so basic, they don't even display a name, instead there is only a tiny blue bus sign hidden in the bushes, sometimes with line numbers for routes that are supposed to stop there. Some stops have shelters with the name written on them, but in one case apparently the stop name had changed and the sign hasn't (Arstadveien). On the northern route to Asane I observed they had installed new orange poles, hope this will be the standard throughout the city although a little more information would be good there, too. Electronic next-bus indicators only exist in the city centre.
About the Skyss/NSB friendship, trolleybus line 2 and bus line 3 actually run past the railway station only one block away, but there is no stop! The two closest stops are somewhere in walking distance, of course, but not related to the train station at all. So, unless you know your way, you won't find the railway station easily.

Bybane (Light Rail)

Bergen's new light rail system, opened in 2010 and extended in June 2013, was much acclaimed in Europe for being one of the big tram revivals outside France or Spain. And they have done a good job. The line runs every 10 minutes even during the summer timetable (every 5 minutes most of the day from Aug 12) and is pretty busy all the time, altough it doesn't go to any tourist places, neither seem to be there any major centres directly along the line. The area appears to be more of an American sprawl with lots of small houses in a very hilly area. Nesttun is the only urban centre on the southern section, and at the new terminus Lagunen there is a large shopping mall. Lots of buses connect to the line there and at Nesttun terminal.

The line has a pleasant, carefully designed corporate image, no idea, whether this was already planned as the Skyss image, or the other way round, anyway, trams and stops are in harmony, and most buses carry the same colour scheme, too, except the few trolleybuses, which are yellow (I don't really understand why they bother to maintain the small fleet of 6 trolleybuses on a route which is mostly shared by normal buses - diesel or natural gas – and yesterday only three were in service, I guess because too many drivers with a trolleybus license were on holiday...).

The Bybane (which literally translate as 'city rail line') is well aligned and almost entirely on a dedicated or completely segregated right-of-way, which makes it deserve being called light rail. On the inner section, some segments are also used by buses, and only a short stretch can be driven on by cars. On the outer section, there are several tunnels, and trams really speed up to their maximum allowed speed of some 70 km/h. There is no underground station, and passengers can cross the tracks at all stops. What I missed is some kind of visual warning at these level crossings, so the trams actually enter the stops at very low speed, just in case. There should be flashing lights or even barriers. The platforms are the same level as the tram floor, so full accessibility is granted. Basically, all stops have side platforms, except Danmarks plass, which has an unusual layout with individual side platforms, but both on the eastern side of the respective track, the outbound platform being separated by a railing from the inbound track; I guess this is to avoid having people waiting directly next to a dual carriageway.

There is, however, one thing I don't understand about the naming of one stop, and that's Nonneseter, when it should be called Jernbanestasjon and nothing else. Nonneseter, according to Wikipedia, does not really exist, but refers to an old nunnery in this area. Skyss again deliberately ignores the NSB railway station, a hint to it is neither shown as a subtitle on the sign nor in the accoustic announcements on the tram. On the other hand, the stop is quite conveniently located just outside the railway station, and from the inbound platform it is just a few steps through an archway into the station hall and the trains, so this couldn't be much better.

The Stadler Variotrams are quite good for this kind of completely new route (I guess even Citadis would do fine here...), they have a pleasant interior with good visibility through the carriage, but I think they could have one more door, especially as the rear door on each side is single-leaf. It's quite funny, but in the end I don't like that each stop announcement is started with a different melody. I think this sound should be like a signal to inconsciously make you listen to what is being announced. The current 5-section vehicles are planned to be extended to 7 sections, along with the delivery of another batch of trams for the airport extension.

For those who have seen the original route but not yet the recently opened extension – it just looks the same. Past Nesttun terminal, where now both platforms are used, the line runs through a car-free street, though not a proper pedestrian zone either, up to Nesttun sentrum, a stop apparently added at a later stage of planning as it was not shown in older documents. Just after that stop, trams enter the first of two tunnels and remain on a fast and almost completely segregated route down to the new terminus at Lagunen. Here there are three sidings beyond the station, two ready to become the running tracks towards the airport, plus a stub on the northern side. In fact the current track layout does not allow the southern (future northbound) track to be used for reversing, but a train could be stored there being pushed back from the inbound platform. So all trams go into the sidings here to reverse, there is no switch before the station, as the route enters the station in a rather tight curve. Full construction of the airport extension is supposed to start this summer of 2013.

In the city centre, you may come across some tram tracks not part of the Bybane line. These are not relics of the old tram system closed in the mid-1960s, but new tracks which have been laid over the last decades in view of a future heritage tram line, but no date is known when this should be operational.


Bergen Bybane at UrbanRail.Net