Sunday, 8 September 2013

COPENHAGEN Metro & S-tog

The last stop on my extensive Scandinavian tours this summer was Copenhagen, a place I had also been before several times, and since my last visit in 2007 not too many things have changed. In that year I was there in July, and the Metro's Airport extension only opened in September, so that was new to discover for me during this year's visit (31 Aug - 3 Sept 2013). But as expected, it didn't really have anything new about it as the stations are pretty identical to the older ones. On this new section, there was a bad choice of station names. I observed a group of youngsters who were not sure whether they had to get off at "Kastrup" to get to the Airport or not, as in the region "Kastrup" seems to be synonymous for airport, like Heathrow or Barajas. In Malmö, Öresund trains are actually labelled as "Kastrup/Københamn", so the metro terminus should be called like the Öresund station, i.e. "Københavns Lufthavn Kastrup", while the current metro station called "Kastrup" should either have an appendage like "village" or better be called something else completely to avoid confusion.

Starting my exploration on Saturday morning, I was pretty shocked to find a rather dirty Metro system. I had seen it quite new and shiny in 2003 and still in 2007 it looked good, but now it is showing its age (well, only 11 years!). Getting on a train after a Friday night service, when apparently the trains are used for partying, did not help to get a positive impression. But besides the fresh dirt left behind by the partying folk, the seats look completely worn-out and wasted, the creamy cladding looks dirty especially in the gaps between those panels as if noone has ever cleaned the trains more thoroughly for years. There are cleaners at least at the Vanløse terminus who take away the litter, but the nonstop service doesn't seem to allow proper cleaning, although not all trains are in operation during night times. The stations still look quite alright, although also the corners and edges on the stairs could take some high-pressure waterjet cleaning. The outside of the trains still looks quite o.k., no graffiti, but the white livery, just like in Oslo, starts to look pale and dirty after some years.

The S-tog is quite the contrary, the trains look rather clean inside (the dim light helps to make them look better...), but many are redecorated with huge graffiti and many stations have become simply pathetic, notably Nørrebro, all painted with graffiti and also pretty neglected otherwise. Apparently, they don't have enough trains to withdraw the painted ones from service. I hope they are not going the same way into disaster as the Berlin S-Bahn did after cutting investment and jobs!

Generally, however, I like both Metro and S-tog. The S-tog is almost like a metro, running frequently, and with these super-wide trains. All the older trains have been retired since my last visit. A few years ago they simplified the system, but now they made it more complicated again by simplifying the weekend service. But this 'simplification' results in 3! different system maps placed next to each other on the trains, one for normal weekday service, one for weekend daytime service, and yet another for weekend night service! And all three displayed in the same size. I wonder if this is really necessary? I like the strong image of the S-tog with its huge logo, and everyone perceives the system as something different from other local and regional trains, while in Oslo or Helsinki there this distinction is very vague.

What I like about the Metro is that it is well-built. Unlike the Canada Line in Vancouver, the alignment is perfect, so trains can go into curves at full speed and very elegantly - and I'm looking forward to the Cityring as it almost exclusively consists of curves, so that will be fun to ride. Interestingly, trains start to shake a bit on the straight elevated sections! And, unlike Stockholm, the trains are perfectly tuned, they accelerate and slow down at the right speed, very smoothly and without the danger of passengers falling. The basic design of the stations looks nice, but boring, as all are the same. But luckily, I'm not the only one who criticizes that and therefore the new stations on the circular line will be quite colourful, e.g. red if they provide interchange with the S-tog. I think it would have been wiser to arrange the two flights of double escalators in a different way. The way they are laid out now, all passengers getting off a train need to walk to one end of the platform where they find two sets of escalators going up. I think passenger flow would be better if there was one escalator going up from either end of the platform. Anyway, what is completely missing are the escalators from the mezzanine to street level, instead there are only stairs which are extremely steep, the steepest I have ever seen anywhere on a public transport system. Luckily, the present entrance at the busy Kongens nytorv station right in the city centre will be replaced by a new entrance anyway in conjunction with the new ring line. Many passengers therefore rather wait for the lift to get to the surface directly. I think stations should have been made more future-proof from the start, but many of them in the central area already appear too small for the crowds they have to handle. This is a common misunderstanding nowadays, that driverless metros can be built with small stations. But if in the end you get a train every 90 seconds or less on each side, the small platforms at Nørreport or Kongens nytorv will have problems absorbing all those passengers getting off and at the same time handle those boarding. Adding a fourth car will just make the overcrowding worse. Also, centrally located stations like Kongens nytorv should by definition have exits in different directions to disperse passengers and increase the catchment area.

Unless there is an agreement soon, the new metro station at the Central Station will be quite a disaster. It is being built at the "back" side of the railway station, which as such is not bad. But as of now, it will not be directly accessible from the railway station, instead it will be a standard station with only one exit in a small street nearby that actually faces away from the railway station. So, please, DSB and Metro, get your act together and build a proper interchange, otherwise the whole world will laugh at you both! At Nørreport, the interchange is actually being enlarged right now, adding a new entrance on the city centre side (let's hope that the busy, but appalling Nørreport S-tog station will also be upgraded soon!).

What I like least about the Copenhagen transport system is its lack of a common transport authority. Luckily all tickets are valid for all different operators, but there is no face to it all. Except for some security people, the Metro is completely unmanned, no visible information office, just machines and a few info leaflets in some stations, the same is true for the S-tog, and I don't know about Movia who operates the buses. This is the absolute contrary to Stockholm, where SL is omnipresent, has a few customers offices in strategic places and with many metro stations staffed. At least the tourist office has some maps for visitors which also explain the fare system a bit.

Which brings us to Copenhagen's excessive zonal fare system. The capital region where all those shared tickets are valid may be similar to SL's territory in Stockholm. And while SL needs 3 fare stages (for single tickets only - one single fare zone for all other tickets), the Copenhagen area is divided into none less than 95!!! zones. The maximum number of zone you need to pay is 9. Visitor's passes sold as "City Pass" can be found on machines under "City centre tickets", although they cover zones 1-4 which also includes the Airport, so that's pretty misleading, too. Luckily, many maps show the different zones, although at S-tog stations, I wasn't sure whether Hellerup was included in this type of ticket or not (in the end it is in two adjacent zones, but that was badly drawn). On the other days I bought a 24-timers billet (24-hour ticket) which is valid in all zones, but costs some 17.50 EUR but at least you don't have to bother about zones when taking the S-tog a bit beyond the half-circular F line. Travelling in the region over the Öresund Bridge into Sweden can also be tricky as explanations on the different websites are not very clear. I bought a day-return ticket from Copenhagen to Malmö and understood that this includes travel on local buses for 24 hours also in Malmö. I cannot confirm that this is true, as when I showed my paper ticket to the bus drivers, they didn't really look at it, as on that day the electronic ticketing system in Malmö was not working anyway and they simply didn't care about tickets.... But I think they never look at them as you cannot really expect that all bus drivers know all the 95 fare zones on the Danish side plus their 100+ zones on the Swedish side.

Talking of Malmö, I did, of course, its small underground system, opened in 2010 as Citytunneln, with two underground stations and one partly covered station (Hyllie). While the underground station at Malmö Central is quite typical for European railway stations built in the last two decades, the tube station at Triangeln at the southern edge of the city centre is quite pleasant with clear lines, good visibility despite the massive row of columns in the middle. The route is frequently served by Öresund trains from Copenhagen at least every 20 minutes plus some of those purple Pågatåg services operating in Southern Sweden, but there is no regular headway between trains, so there may be longer gaps. 


Wednesday, 4 September 2013


My last nordic trip this year also took me two days (28-29 Aug 2013) to Göteborg (Gothenburg), the tram capital of the North, to check out all the lines for my forthcoming "Tram Atlas Northern Europe". I had already been here in 2007 when I also explored almost the entire system, and since then, not too many things have changed, the most visible being the rebuilding of Frölunda station, which formerly appeared to be an underground station, and now it is open like an amphitheatre on the western side, which leaves only Hammerkullen on the northern line to Angered as an underground tram station.

The Göteborg tram system is rather extensive, and as a result of it, also rather confusing, as there are no clear trunk routes through the city centre. More in an Eastern European fashion, several outer termini are served by up to three lines, allowing direct connections to many places in the city at the cost of a messy map in the city centre. This is made worse by the trunk route between Central Stationen and Brunnsparken, which has four tracks, and at Brunnsparken, the most central stop in the city, there are two sets of platforms on either side of the park, some 100 m apart from each other. I have tried to understand it, but didn't succeed, why a few lines stops on the same side in both directions, while others use different sides of the square depending on the direction. I guess it must be related to the track layout at Central Stationen, but as all lines converge east of it anyway, I honestly cannot understand it. It is rather confusing. Once I waited for line 11 to Saltholmen, supposed to stop on the northern side at Brunnsparken, but then I saw it turn towards the southern, which gave me time to run over there, but most other (not so alert) passengers will have had to wait for the next tram instead.

This leads us to electronic indicators: they do exist and in many different shapes, but all of them are hidden under the shelter roof and are rather small, so you actually have to go there to be very close to be able to read them, and then you would have to stay nearby in case a disruption message is displayed. I think, such displays have to be installed clearly visible from the entire platform as they are usually on metro systems, but also on the new tram in Stockholm. A quick look from the distance also tells you whether it is actually worthwhile waiting or faster to walk instead. And for tram photographers it is always good to be able to read from some distance when the next tram is due.

The Göteborg tram system is part of the Västtrafik fare system, a rather large region administered by the same agency, good for many reasons, but as it happens often, the urban network only plays a minor role in such a big region and is therefore often cared for insufficiently. The zonal system is far too complex, and especially it is completely unclear where the zone boundaries are. So it could be a typical German city, where what we call the Tarifdschungel (fare jungle) is the major obstacle for (potential) occasional users to switch from car to public transport, and often I can't blame them. As for the Göteborg tram network, it appears that a few stops on lines 2 and 4 are outside Göteborg city and in neighbouring Mölndal instead. But no maps and not even the printed timetables for these lines hint you at that. But I understand that you need a 2-zone ticket, or a Göteborg+ day pass, which I got for three days at 220 SEK. What would it cost to show this on the tram map which is displayed at most stops and inside the trams? Transport agencies should be sued for not depicting clearly on any map and any printed timetable etc. which stop is in which zone. Considering the often absurd administrative boundaries between municipalities, you cannot even expect from a local to know where Göteborg ends and Mölndal begins. This situation is even made worse by the fact that much more distant places like Angered, which is separated from the proper city by several kilometers of countryside, do belong to Göteborg city and thus require a 1-zone fare only. On the other hand, Västtrafik publishes a 28-page booklet trying to explain the fare system, focussing on SMS tickets. So in this field, Västtrafik gets a clear 'fail'.

Göteborg once planned a metro system and therefore built several outer sections almost to metro standard, a bit like the Green Line in Stockholm. It would require a lot of rebuilding, though, to make it a metro. Anyway, in the 1970's they downgraded the project to become a fast tram instead, but the tunnel station at Hammarkullen, deep under a mountain, had already been built with a sort of island platform (actually two single-track tunnels with the platform on the wrong side). But as Göteborg only uses single-ended trams, the section north of Hjällbo is operated on the left side (trams cross over to the other side at grade just south of that stop), so the history is quite similar to that in Zurich (Schwamendingen tram tunnel). Hammarkullen station always appeared to me rather unpleasant, and probably not just to me, so they redesigned it recently to make it much brighter, although with only one exit at the southern end of the platform it still causes a sort of claustrophoby!

Despite the long sections without level crossings, the system appears more like a tram than a light rail system, if compared to similar, nut newer systems like that in Porto. The use of rather old rolling stock emphasises this impression, of course. There are also (often troubled) new Sirio low-floor trams from Ansaldobreda, which are not bad, but not great either, although they look quite trendy. They are, however, much too noisy running over switches and intersections, and shake a bit in curves, so I prefer the Flexity Classic in Norrköping. All stops have some sort of platform, but it is never level with the Sirio trams, always too low.

Another anology to Zurich is the use of (obviously) traditional line colours, which is fine a long as it is clear, but to have line 9 written in dark-blue on a light-blue background is not such a good combination, and also white (here for line 1) is generally not used to identify a line nowadays. Another Västtrafik insufficiency is the style of showing the three Pendeltåg lines on maps, in black and as different dotted lines, when dotted lines worldwide stand for lines under construction or maybe sections served irregularly only. They should also have line numbers like P1 to P3.

Other insufficiencies are probably the responsibility of Göteborgs Spårvägar, the tram operator. One is the traditional use of different names for destinations and for the last stop. This usage can be classified as deliberately user-unfriendly! Line 2, for example, goes to Högsbotorp, but the final stop is actually called Axel Dahlströms torg, which is also served by other lines. This problem exists at almost all termini. One super-bizarre case is, however, Kålltorp vs. Torp, which used to be the termini for lines 3 and 5 in the same place! After line 5 has been extended to Östra sjukhuset, it stops at 'Torp' in the outbound direction, and at 'Kålltorp' inbound, although the stops are almost opposite each other. How stupid is that? What's wrong with just calling the whole stop complex Kålltorp? I will never understand why one name is not enough for 'destination' and 'stop'. This is not only a Göteborg problem, but exists in many other cities, too. Inside the trams I find it very useful to not only see the next stop announced but also the one following it.

The most bizarre piece of information are the neighbourhood maps at stops. It is good that there are some, which is not common on other tram systems, but these maps show street names and tram routes, but NOT the tram stops. Have they forgotten them? What is a neighbourhood map good for if you cannot even see where you are? I wonder how some people qualify for a job and how unqualified their superiors must be to choose them!

So all in all, the impression the Göteborg tram leaves is that of a dense network with frequent service, but generally a very passenger-unfriendly approach, when it comes to good information and fare structure. There is lot of room for improvement. I know they won't like it, but Stockholms län is far better in this respect.  



Travelling from Stockholm to Göteborg on 27 Aug 2013, I made a stopover at Norrköping, one of Europe's smallest tramway cities. I was there also in 2007, but with the entire system closed down for track work during the summer, I had to see all routes on a replacement bus! Since then, a fourth and very important leg has been added to the system, resulting in a rather good network for such a small town of less than 100,000 inhabitants. Trams on line 2 run every 10 minutes throughout the day, and on line 3 every 10-12 minutes depending on the time of the day. Trams are well patronised and the fleet has been rejuvenating during recent years, so the future for the Norrköping tram looks bright. During my visit, only new Flexity Classic (like those on Stockholm's Sparväg City and in Frankfurt, Dortmund or Kassel) were in serice, plus several of the refurbished ex-Duisburg Duewag trams, which have an added central low-floor section. I did not get to see any of the three ex-Munich GT6 trams.

The new extension from Ljura to Kvarnberget is well-built like what one would expect of a modern tram line, completely on its own right-of-way, mostly with grass-covered track. Interesting to note that the Flexity Classic are all double-ended, despite the existence of terminal loops and several intermediate loops, too. But this fact allowed three of them to be borrowed to Stockholm for the opening of their Sparväg City (along with three trams from Frankfurt). Due to their design with proper bogies at the end of the vehicle, the Flexity Classic are among the better of the modern trams when it comes to travelling through curves.

Norrköping now only has lines 2 and 3, but it used to have a line 1, too, which was a circular line. And I think that the link between Norr tull and Väster tull should really be rebuilt, as the area it would serve has been redeveloped drastically from an industrial quarter into a cultural centre, but to avoid that the trams get stuck on the existing bridge, some alternative needs to be offered for other traffic, like a new bridge further up the river. Once reinstated, line 2 could share the central trunk route with line 3 as now it takes a long detour around the eastern edge of the city centre, where I did not observe many passengers.

Travelling on the tram in Norrköping is rather cheap, you can explore the system with a day pass for just 50 SEK (some 6.50 €).


STOCKHOLM Urban Rail Systems

I had been to Stockholm several times and it is always a pleasure to be in that city, which I find one of the most beautiful in Europe and also with one of the best transport systems. It also offers a great variety of different urban rail systems, so there is something for everyone. 
     Since my last visit in 2007 not many things have changed, just a modern tram line was introduced on what was previously just a heritage tram line to Djurgården, and the old Lidingöbana closed for upgrading only recently, so luckily I rode that during my last visit, although I would have enjoyed riding it once more before it is being converted to a modern light rail line. The Tvärbana, however, was scheduled to be extended in spring, but is delayed until autumn, so I had to do the new stretch on foot. So here are just a few old and new impressions on the different urban rail systems:

1) Tunnelbana: as this time (22-26 Aug 2013) I focussed more on the other urban rail systems, I didn't ride it too much now as I had been on all the lines before and nothing much has changed since my 2004 book 'Metros in Scandinavia'. I still like the look of the newer trains, but I still don't like their performance when it comes to accelerating and braking, although this is probably not the trains' problem, but the ATO system's. The ride is not gradual from accelerating to braking, but instead too abrupt with many changes from moving faster and slowing down. Also the "take-off" and final brake before a station stop is too hard, the risk of falling is on no other metro as high as in Stockholm. I hope that this will be resolved with the new operation system being installed for optional driverless operation on the Red Line. As I'm writing this, I'm in Copenhagen, and the driverless metro here has a perfect tuning in respect to accelerating and braking. The other strange thing I have always noted in Stockholm with these C20 trains is the 2 seconds or so before the driver can open the doors. It must be related to the same operation system. I wonder who designed that? Otherwise these trains are very good, very comfortable and quiet and running smoothly. Compared to the Siemens trains in Oslo that have to negotiate similar curves like these on Stockholm's Green Line, they seem to adapt better to this kind of alignment.

2) Tvärbana & Nockebybana:

Although the Nockebybana is a left-over of the old suburban tram system, the two light rail lines now are rather similar using the same rolling stock. I took a bit more time this time to explore them. Interesting to see a conductor on each tram, which in the case of the Nockebybana is essential because otherwise people could get into the Tunnelbana system for free, as this line offers cross-platform interchange at Alvik to the Green Line. The Tvärbana is often operated with 2-car sets, so the conductor moves from one car to the other to do ticket checks.

There has been some criticism that the new extension was too expensive because it includes some 'railway'-type alignment, but I think the extra cost was worth it. The line already now is a vital tangential link in a city that is very much focussed on a single city centre corridor due to its geographical location, and the new extension to Solna will strengthen this role and even make the existing part much busier, I bet. Having a fast alignment, with some longer sections without grade-crossings will make it more attractive as an alternative to the cross-city Tunnelbana lines. Unfortunately I didn't see any new CAF vehicles that will initially operated the new extension separately, as I understand it.

3) Spårväg City (7)
This modern tramway opened in 2010 with only a few hundred meters of new track, while the rest was taken from the heritage line reinstated in 1991 after the general tram closure in 1967. The line runs every 6 minutes and was overcrowded at almost all times, mostly with tourists going to the many museums and amusement park on Djurgården Island. The 'Frankfurt'-style trams (class S in the German city) work fine, but the new CAF trams will be wider and longer and thus offer more capacity. The present fleet will most likely move on to Norrköping (they actually were delivered with a Norrköping interior and livery, the latter being covered in typical Stockholm blue). At present, the trams use a temporary single-track terminus at Sergels torg, but preliminary work for an extension across the square to a 2-track terminus on Klarabergsgatan has already started. But my guess is that this terminus will soon be insufficient if plans materialise for a second line to Ropsten where it will be physically connected to the upgraded Lidingöbana. So hopefully a western extension will be added soon, too.

4) Pendeltåg
Stockholm's suburban rail lines, part of the SL network, can be classified as 'S-Bahn'. Trains run mostly every 15 minutes on the two north-south lines, so there is a train every 7.5 minutes between Karlberg and Älvsjö, plus a train every 30 minutes running from Älvsjö to Arlanda Airport (requires extra fare!) and on to Uppsala. So once the city tunnel is ready in around 2017 it will become a true RER or Crossrail service. The Coradia Nordic trains are among my favourite S-Bahn-style trains, they are so smooth and quiet and have a good acceleration. There is only one negative thing I noted, that is the train floor, which is too thin, so when someone of normal weight walks through the train it sounds like an elephant approaching. Probably they intended to reduce weight to reduce energy consumption.

5) Roslagsbana & Saltsjöbana
Stockholm's two local railways are always fun to ride. This time I took the Roslagsbana all the way out to Kårsta, into a very rural countryside. A lot has been done in recent years to upgrade this narrow-gauge system, especially on the section closer to the city. And some trains seem to have been rebuilt with a low-floor middle section. But apart from the relocated Universitetet station, all other stations appear very basic.
The Saltsjöbana is a bit more pathetic, especially when you board at Sickla where it has a single wooden platform in a curve. It has long been proposed that this line should be connected to the Tvärbana somehow, but this has never happened and doesn't seem to happen any time soon either, as a Blue Line extension to Nacka is again on the agenda. The outermost section between Neglinge and Saltsjöbaden was out of service for track work, so something is being done after a train continued beyond the terminal bumper not too long ago and crashed into somebody's bedroom. But sooner or later a big decision will have to be taken about this line, as the converted Tunnelbana trains are also reaching the end of their lifetime.

Fare system

What I like about Stockholm is its rather simple fare structure compared to many urban areas in Europe and also up here in the North. SL administers public transport in the entire Stockholms län (county) and only uses a 3-zone fare system with single tickets, while all passes starting with day passes are valid in the entire county, so only with a few Pendeltåg stations you need to worry about extra fares, and the airport station has an add-on fare anyway as a result of the PPP project which built this route (which includes 3 cavern stations, two for the Arlanda Express, which has a separate and rather high fare anyway, plus one in between for Pendeltåg, regional and long-distance trains going to Northern Sweden). Maybe not everybody is happy with such a fare system as it leads to rather high fares for monthly passes to cover a huge area which many passengers may not require to be included in their pass. On the other hand, passengers in remote villages or towns pay the same fare to go to work in Stockholm, so they win. In any case, for a visitor it is very practical, and with a 7-day pass (although I only stayed for 5 days) it is quite a good deal compared to individual day passes, but it requires the purchase of an electronic SL Access Card (some 3 Euros). This could change as ticket machines should soon be able to issue one-use electronic cards, too.

And what I like most about the Stockholm transport system is its uniform image under the SL label, no matter who is the current operator of any of the different services, for passengers it appears to be a single system, although unlike in many other places, even Göteborg, regional trains are not included, just the Pendeltåg.