Tuesday, April 15, 2014

GRAZ Tram

In preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' I made a short visit to Graz on 6 April 2014 primarily to see the subsurface tram route in the railway station area. My last visit was in summer 2010, and since then not much had changed, except that the new Stadler Variobahn trams are in service after some teething problems.



Generally, the Graz tram system is a rather classic streetcar system with a high share of street-running sections, although most of the car traffic is diverted through parallel streets. Although at most stops there are platforms, these are mostly not high enough to provide proper stepfree access, not even with the low-floor trams, of which besides the newer Variobahn vehicles also Bombardier Flexity Outlook (Cityrunners) are in service. Although Graz maintains a large number of older vehicles, too, most journeys outside the peak hours are operated either with these two types or with older Duewag high-floor trams which have an added low-floor middle section.
When I was in Graz last time, several sections were out of service for track work, like line 7 to Wetzelsdorf and line 1 to Mariatrost. I was very surprised this time, that nothing much was done on line 1, which has a long single-track section with several passing loops at stops, making the overall journey with a Flexity Outlook extremely uncomfortable, as the trams switch from single-track to double-track on a badly aligned track too often. But I was told that this painful section is about to be upgraded properly this summer, with longer double-track sections and thus fewer switches which force the trams to slow down.



The necessity of the tram tunnel at Hauptbahnhof can be doubted, but now it is built anyway. But a solution similar to that realised in Linz or now being started in Augsburg would have been more convincing, i.e. with a tram tunnel right beneath the railway tracks. In Graz, the tram underpass primarily avoids a major road junction at Eggenberger Gürtel (but at the same time also eliminated a tram stop in that area). The underground stop at Hauptbahnhof, however, results in a longer walk for passengers to reach any of the trains than before, when trams stopped just outside the station. Whereas in Linz the tram stop is directly integrated into the station building, in Graz passengers need to walk across the station square and then, inside the building, go down to the subterranean passageway to reach the rail platforms. Once the trams from the city centre have stopped at Hauptbahnhof, they need to take a very tight curve to return to their original east-west alignment. All in all, the advantages for passengers are not really evident, at least not to the extent of the investment that was required to build that semi-underground diversion.



One thing I don't really like about the Graz tram network is the use of different line designations in the evenings and at weekends, when only lines 1, 5 and 7 continue to run, whereas the other legs are combined into lines 13 and 26. But at least this is clearly depicted and also explained on network maps. When these lines are in operation, trams wait for each other at Jakominiplatz to guarantee connections. But what may be ideal for transferring passengers, results in rather long waits for those passengers staying on the same tram.
A second city centre route is indeed missing in Graz. This has long been planned but this plan has not come to fruition yet. At present, all lines run along the single corridor from Hauptplatz to the major hub at Jakominiplatz along Herrengasse. The entire network may suffer disruptions in case of any disruption along this bottleneck. Trams from the southern branches can turn back at Jakominiplatz, but there are no such facilities for trams from the west or north. Trams from Hauptbahnhof run through the narrow Murgasse to reach Hauptplatz and therefore the width even for new trams is restricted to just 2.2 m, quite narrow for modern low-floor trams.
The entire tram network is within the city fare zone and any ticket for the tram is also valid on buses and regional trains (S-Bahn Steiermark) within the city boundaries. A 24-hour-ticket is available at 4.70 EUR from ticket machines.
Trams are now operated by 'Holding Graz Linien', a rather clumsy name for a transport operator, which used to be GVB (Grazer Verkehrsbetriebe). Their website is integrated into the general website dealing with services provided by the same holding (owned by the city). I would prefer a dedicated website that is easier to handle for visitors, while other services like water or garbage are mainly of interest for locals. So similar to Vienna, they should just present themselves as 'Grazer Linien', for example.

Having visited on a Sunday, I didn't manage to grab a network map, but those posted are quite nice and legible, with the trams clearly shown as something superior to buses, but I would suggest to use a better set of colours, not red (1/7), purple (3/6) and malve (4/5). By the way, riding trams in the old town is currently free, but this is just on a trial basis and may not be valid in the future.

LINKS



Graz Tram at UrbanRail.Net




Monday, April 14, 2014

BUDAPEST Metro & Tram

I hadn't been to Budapest in more than 15 years. I always told myself that I would go back as soon as the fourth metro line was open, and so I did (2-5 April2014), but 15 years ago, noone would have thought that it might take so long, but now it's open and running and at least it didn't disappoint me and Budapest locals who will have to use it every day, certainly like it, too. One week after its inauguration, many people were still exploring and admiring.



Anyway, let's start from the beginning, as usual, and look at the Metro later. Budapest has, no doubt, a good transport system, and with metro, trams, two types of suburban railways (MAV and HEV), a funicular, trolleybuses, a rack railway, a children's railway and even a chairlift, there is enough to explore for any urban transport enthusiast. To find out what goes where, can be a tricky thing, as only small fold-out maps are available, which are more like an enhanced metro map, i.e they show all tram lines but only with major stops, as well as some trunk bus lines. And these were updated with the new line M4. Some material was also available that shows the changes that have taken place in conjunction with the M4 opening, but these only affect bus routes in the southwestern area, whereas tram lines have remained basically unchanged (quite notable as some lines double the metro on the surface), except that a weekend line 48 was introduced. I was hoping to get a full city map with all lines as are posted in some places, but probably they haven't updated it yet.



When I arrived at Ferihegy Airport, there was a BKV office right next to the exit point in the main arrival hall, easily visible and staffed with an English-speaking lady. They don't accept euros but a cash machine was nearby to get some Forint. I got a 72-hour-ticket, exactly the period I needed for my stay, but there are also 24- and 48-hour tickets, and they give you unlimited travel on almost anything with the Budapest city boundaries (and the city is pretty large), except the funicular up to the Buda castle hill and the Children's Railway. At 4150 Forint (that's some 13 EUR), it is not exceptionally cheap compared to other prices in Hungary, but a good deal. And keep your ticket at hand at all times because you'll need to show it frequently!

Although certainly quite smaller than it used to be, the tram system (Villamos in Hungarian) is still rather large and a useful means of transport also for ordinary tourists. Especially line 2 provides a nice sightseeing tour along the Danube River on the Pest (eastern) side, but also on the right (west/Buda) bank you can ride the tram along the river (19/41). Line 2 is actually close to being a light rail line if it wasn't for the old trams in service not only on this line, as well as the sometimes very basic stops, but otherwise it is mostly fenced off and even has an underground stop at Fövam ter, now integrated into the M4 station complex. On other lines (I didn't ride all of them) the standard was varying a lot from extremely bad track on some sections of line 1 or the northern end of line 3 to recently upgraded sections with new track and proper platforms to match new low-floor trams. As far as I have observed, these (as of now only Siemens extra-long Combinos) are only in service on lines 4/6, which run along the körut, the ring road on the Pest side. There are posters at many stops announcing the introduction of CAF Urbos trams in 2015, but I wonder if they manage to get the track into proper condition, as now even the robust Tatras have problems and need to go very slowly on some sections of line 1, for example. So, the system is in a long process of being modernised. Next-tram indicators are still rather rare and often undergoing testing. In the central area, some announcements like transfers to the Metro are also made in English. Quite unusual for such an old system, all the trams are double-ended and doors often open on the left side. On line 2 at Vigandó ter in the city centre, there was obviously no room for a southbound platform, so you step down onto the northbound track. In general, stops are quite far apart in many cases, which may give you the impression of a higher travel speed, and in fact, they do travel very fast as opposed to many new tram systems. I was surprised how the long Combinos can handle those speeds on not always perfect track. Most of the routes I have seen are on a dedicated lane or right-of-way, which is at least separated from car traffic by concrete „balls“, so cars are unlikely to invade the tram route. A bit like in Vienna, to avoid too long lines, many of them act as feeders to the metro or to other tram lines. But apparently, this approach has changed with line M4, as the surface trams lines were maintained to cater for short trips (a good idea as many M4 stations lie very deep and would require too much time to ride just between two stations).



Budapest now has four METRO lines, and they are all rather different. M1, the oldest underground railway on the European continent, is of course more of a fun ride than a real metro, but it does get busy and trains travel very frequently and make only very brief stops. With only three short carriages making a full train, their capacity is rather limited and the stations are placed at short distances. All in all, more like an underground tram than a metro.
After having been completely refurbished, line M2 now looks like a modern, recently opened line, especially as the new Alstom Metropolis trains are in service here, too. In some places, some marble walls were integrated into the otherwise complete redesign, which I think was done very well. The stations look bright, and, what I found very interesting, the often ugly dirty wall behind the track was also decorated, resulting in a much more pleasant overall look. These images mostly depict scenes from the area where the station lies.



With line M2 refurbished and despite being newer, line M3 looks like the old and dark line. No doubt, the station designs have a certain 1970s Eastern appeal, but something needs to be done to bring it up to the standard of lines M2 and M4. Maybe improved illumination would already do a lot, and maybe a similar approach can be made with the design of the wall behind the tracks. Especially as the ceilings are very low, and there is mostly a row of columns close to the platform edge, this area is very dark and unattractive. The old Moscow-type trains add to the nostalgia feeling of days gone by. The southern terminus at Köbanya-Kispest has already been refurbished and made fully accessible.



And now to the new M4. Wikipedia actually has a list of dates that had been announced in the past for its scheduled opening... Anyway, I was already quite excited when I saw some construction photos and some photos of the finished stations, and I was not disappointed when I saw them in real life. Although like almost anywhere nowadays, bare concrete is also present here, each station has received its individual style, some more interesting than others, but almost all have something to discover. But above all, the stations are very spacious, well illuminated, good signage and good ventilation. Lots of escalators as well as lifts link the different levels, as most of the stations lie rather deep. Interchanges with other modes like trams and railways, but also the other metro lines were well planned and logically laid out. I think in most cases passengers can reach tram stops without crossing any streets. What I am missing, but maybe this is in the making, is a proper logo on a pole outside the stations. Previously, the other lines had a sort of logo, different for each line and not really visible either. A new M-logo is actually used to prefix the line number, similar to the Paris Metro, and I hope they will place it in a strong colour at road intersections etc. to make it visible from the distance.



Back to the station designs, it was funny to get a certain deja-vu experience in some of them: Moricz Zsigmond körter certainly reminds me of Georg-Brauchle-Ring in Munich, the terminus at Kelenföldi with its concrete walls painted in red is also reminiscent of Munich's U2 along its eastern leg where this was a main theme, again in Munich, the entrance bubble at Bikás park is similar to that at St.-Quirin-Platz on line U1. So I wonder if the same architects were involved here. At Kelenföldi, the railway station was rebuilt together with the metro, and from a wide mezzanine which spans the entire station and connects bus terminals at either side, you can reach all the railway platforms directly, making it a perfect hub. So I guess, it was worth the wait and the line is already pretty busy. See photos of all M4 stations here. Let's hope that the once envisaged eastern extension to Bosnyak ter will follow soon.





The Alstom Metropolis trains used on lines M2 and M4 are quite o.k., maybe a bit loud, but not as much as in Warsaw. On the new line they run rather smoothly, although compared to Vienna's U-Bahn the speed is (still) modest. Apparently, they are ready for driverless operation on line M4, but for the initial period a driver is on board and operates them in ATO mode. Inside they had a pleasant temperature and all sorts of announcements, visual and accoustic.
During my stay, there were ticket inspectors at almost all metro entrances, something I did not quite understand. The cost to have at least two people at every entrance must be horrendous. At the same time you don't really catch people without tickets as you would turn back if you don't have a ticket and buy one before trying to get in. I remember that last time I was there, ticket inspectors were waiting at the end of upgoing escalators to catch people without a ticket and fine them, but now they were all placed at entrances. Can anyone explain what the intention of this is?

Today I also got the chance to ride a HEV train to Szentendre, a nice town north of Budapest (with a BKV transport museum next to the station). This line (and I guess the others are similar) reminded me of the Roslagsbana or Saltsjöbana in Stockholm. The trains must be carrying thousands of people every day, but I don't understand why these people don't deserve proper platforms. You need to take a very good step or jump to get into or off the train. Unless they plan to get new low-floor trains soon, they should do something about this. And on some sections the trains really shake too much! Hopefully they will soon connect the northern with the two southern lines, what has been planned for a long time, creating a sort of M5. In a first stage, they should at least bring the southern lines further into the city, for example to the Kalvin ter hub, where people can change to a higher capacity vehicle, whereas now, people coming on busy and long suburban trains need to continue their journey on crowded trams, which has never made sense to me. From the eastern line, people can change to M2 or several tram lines, the same with the northern line that terminates at Batthyany ter. Another option would be to convert them into a sort of tram-train using new vehicles that can also run on the urban tram tracks, most of which are on dedicated lanes anyway.



LINKS


Budapest Metro & Tram at UrbanRail.Net




Friday, March 7, 2014

MARSEILLE Métro & Tram

During my short holiday in Nice I took one day (6 March 2014) to visit Marseille where I had already been once back in the 1990s. While the metro system hasn't changed much since then, Marseille now also boasts a modern tramway.



All in all, and especially when compared to the similarly sized Lyon metropolitan area and other European cities of that size (i.e. between 1 and 1.5 million inhabitants), the urban rail system in Marseille appears rather modest and insufficient. The metro, like in Lyon, uses short trains, here the 4-car trains only reach 65 m in length, not too bad when compared to the also short trains in Paris, but other European metros designed in the 1970s were laid out for longer rolling stock. This fact makes the stations, which could not take longer trains, look very small; this impression is confirmed especially in the city centre where they are often also very narrow. In recent years, just line 1 has been extended by four stations, and compared to all the older stations, these appear like huge and bright spaces, almost oversized, given the lower patronage compared to the busy stations in the centre. 



Having used tunnel boring machines on most sections, stations end up lying very deep. Mostly they have only one entrance, which unless you know exactly where it is, may be difficult to find. There is a large cube-shaped logo, but being black, it is not properly visible from the distance, some red like in Italy would help.
What is most annoying on the Marseille Métro is the extremely bad design of the two interchanges between lines 1 and 2. The interchange at Saint-Charles stroke me already during my first visit, because what I consider simply a severe planning mistake (otherwise it would be hard to believe), does not make sense at all. Often when I complain about such situations, someone points out one reason or another which may be acceptable for a certain compromise, but I think noone can give a plausible reason why they bothered to drill those tunnels in a way that all tracks lie parallel to each other – a good idea up to here – but in the end placed an island platform between the line 1 tracks in the middle, and side platforms for line 2 on the outer tracks. So there is absolutely no point in having all tracks on the same level from a passenger's point of view, in fact it would be better to have a two-level station instead, T-Centralen in Stockholm would have been a model for this station.



But the second interchange between the two lines, Castellane, is not much better. When two lines intersect perpendicularly, the only option is that one line is on the upper level, and the other below, with one flight of stairs and escalators enough to change trains. This is normally easily done when the two lines are planned and built at the same time, as was the case here more or less. But instead you get a completely inadequate station with narrow side platforms and exits only at one end via stairs only, after an acceptable walk you come to the system's major bottleneck: M1 also has side platforms with exits only at their western ends, but here with upgoing escalators and stairs that are not even one metre wide. It reminded me of some of those super-narrow staircases on the Brussels metro. In a few months, Castellane will also become the terminus of the city's third tram line, so passenger numbers and overcrowding will even increase here.



Otherwise, signage and general operation looks good. The trains, with their Brussels-style orange interior, could have standard poles and rails to hold on to, instead you can hold on to the seats and in the middle of the area next to the doors there is a half-high pole where you can hold on to, but this is somehow actually obstructing people when getting on and off. The trains run on rubber tyres, which I find funny and I like the smell of the tyres, somewhat roasted, but I actually don't see the point, especially as those systems like in Paris actually have normal steel wheels, too. But compared to well-maintained conventional metros like in Berlin, which I'm always surprised how quietly it runs, I don't see the advantages of rubber-tyred metros, especially if there are no significant gradients. Whereas line 1 now seems to have reached its natural length, i.e. the boundaries of the densely built-up area, line 2 is far from reaching its full extension. From the elevated Sainte-Marguerite Dromel terminus you can see huge high-rise neighbourhoods some kilometres away where the metro could go. An extension to St-Loup was high on the agenda some 10 years ago, was later postponed again and again while the tram was given priority. In the north, a 1-station extension is now being built, basically on depot access tracks, but this will simply move the bus/metro interchange a few hundreds metres further north.



In 2007, Marseille joined the general French tramway boom, although it was actually one of only a few cities which had never completely given up its tram system. But the only line, 68, was rather short and played only a minor role in the city's transport system. This line was rebuilt and became part of line 1, which was extended east from the former terminus St-Pierre, thus almost doubling its length. This extension, however, runs through some either undeveloped land or not too dense areas, and given the fact that Marseille still has several high-density districts neither served by metro nor the tram, I started to wonder whether this was really the area with the highest priority for a rail-based system. In the city centre it uses an old tram tunnel and therefore terminates underground at Noailles. Tram line 2 seems to be busier as it actually traverses the city centre and also serves the new developments to the north of it, the Euroméditerranée. The third line, now under construction, will give more coverage to the city centre, as it will run along Rue de Rome, right between the two metro lines, but will not reach any areas still lacking urban rail service.



Marseille's tram was much acclaimed when it opened for its modern design of the vehicles, although I have to admit that without being pointed at it, I would not directly associate the front of the trams with the bow of a vessel as was suggested, but it looks quite good anyway. They also look quite nice inside with a lot of wood used instead of the otherwise typical plastic. But the seats hardly deserve being called seats, the least comfortable I have ever seen on any tram or train. Not because they are hard, that's fine for a ride of limited time, but their shape is simply absurd. I guess that it was one of those incompetent designers who suggested to incompetent decision-makers to use an 'ergonomic' design! Ergonomy is a nice feature, but it only works if you can adjust the seat to the person who sits on it. And being tall and with a long-suffered back problem, I could write books about stupid people who design seats for public transport. I actually feel pity for Bombardier, as they normally deliver acceptable to good seats, but as said before, some incompetent designer must have imposed his/her will here. Aren't regular passengers in Marseille complaining about this? They should come to Nice for a day to see the difference! Another thing I was disappointed about was the quality of ride in curves and over switches. I had long believed that this is mostly a Citadis problem, and had not observed it that much on Flexitys elsewhere, but in Marseille they slow down for curves to 5-10 km/h, so the overall impression of speed is rather modest. Through the city centre, notably around Noailles on line 2, the trams continuously ring their bells as people keep crossing tracks or even walk on them to avoid the crowded pavement. All the stops are well-equipped with all sorts of information you would expect, electronic next-tram indicators, and, what I appreciate, with stop name signs at a height only about half a metre from the platform, which is much easier to read from inside the tram (despite the super-large windows...).


All in all, the public transport system is well integrated, costs only 5 € for 24 hours, and season ticket holders can even use local trains within Marseille. Tickets are all of the contactless smart-card type and are supposed to be validated at each boarding on the tram. For the metro you have to hold them against the reader anyway to open the gates/turnstiles. I was surprised how many manned information points there are, mostly small offices which provide maps and timetables. At the railway station's metro station Saint-Charles, a long escalator down, there is even a proper RTM ticket window, otherwise tickets have to be bought from vending machines. At some stations I observed single vigilants.

LINKS

Marseille at UrbanRail.Net

RTM (Metro & Tram Operator)



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NICE Tram

A few days before our "Tram Atlas France" will be published, I decided to take a spontaneous, but deserved break and escaped to Nice on the Côte d'Azur for a few days. So today (5 March 2014), I combined sightseeing with tram spotting, both easily manageable in one day as Nice only has a single tram line.



The overall impression of this system is pretty good. The trams are frequent, they run every 4-5 minutes, but are almost always rather busy. In fact, the system was so successful from the start that soon they had to order more trams and extend the original ones from 5 to 7 modules (although there are some 5-section trams left, which is annouced on next-tram indicators as 'tram court' as opposed to 'tram long' for the others, so people know they shouldn't wait in the rear area of the platform). The Citadis 302 trams appear comfortably wide, allowing 2+2 transveral seating, although some sections are have only a few longitudinal seats to allow for prams and wheelchairs and more standees. There are TV screens which annouce the next stop, which is also announced accoustically, with varying music and sometimes with an added 'next stop' in English.


All sections of the line are on some kind of reservation, sometimes only separated from the road by a curb, although the tram tracks are mostly on a slightly raised trackbed. This is also true for the pedestrianised Avenue Jean Médecin, but still many people cross the tracks at any point. The trams therefore almost continously ring their bell to alert distracted pedestrians.

The stops are all up to the level one would expect of a modern tramway, with proper platforms, small shelters, ticket machines, all sorts of information and even a neighbourhood map. What I also appreciate very much is the T-logo on a high pole. Some stops like the central Jean Médecin could actually be wider, because despite being in a pedestrianised street, the platform has a kind of railing that separates it from the rest of the street.

The overall travel speed is modest. Trams run fluidly, although at some intersections I observed that they actually had to wait while cars were moving first in the same direction. But due to the integration of the tram tracks in busy areas, there are hardly any sections where they can speed up a bit, and being Citadis, they have to go into curves quite slowly anyway.


Although the line goes pretty directly to where it has to go, it does not serve the railway station directly, which is certainly a major drawback. From the stop Gare Thiers, people need to walk some 400-500 m to get their trains. The same is true for the CP (Chemin de Fer de Provence) station from Liberation; next to that stop, in fact, the old station building of that line had nicely been restored, but the station itself had been moved west by a few hundred metres a while ago. 

Similarly inconvenient interchanges will be provided once the second line is in service in a few years, as this line will run underground through the city centre, and at both future interchanges, people will need to walk a bit as the respective surface stops on the existing line will not be right outside the underground stations at Garibaldi and Jean Médecin. In the latter case, that stop could be moved further south, while another stop could be added between there and Gare Thiers as distances between stops on the central route are actually quite long. I guess this wouldn't really increase the overall speed as passengers would distribute better among 4 instead of 3 stops and alighting and boarding would thus be accelerated. 

But the second line is also planned to serve both airport terminals, a good perspective after the overcrowded airport 98 bus yesterday, for which (just like bus 99) they charge 6 € (including one transfer to a normal urban line, such as the tram), whereas normal fares in Nice are rather low, 1.50 € for a single ticket (including transfer) or 5 € for one day or a mere 15 € for seven days! These are sold as magnetic cards from ticket vending machines (they accept normal European debit cards!) and you are supposed to put them into the validating machine at each boarding. Regular passengers use electronic contactless tickets they hold against the same machines.



The local transport authority 'Lignes d'Azur' has an information office, but it was hard to find, although it is shown on the transport maps. It is located between Garibaldi and Cathédrale-Vieille Ville tram stops, but you need to look carefully to identify it among many other colourful shops. They have those typical French maps which I find quite good, with all bus lines in different colours, all stops shown properly and named, and the tram clearly shown as something superior. What I don't like much in this case is the city centre inset, neither how it is shown (just stops but no lines) nor what is covered.  

LINKS

Nice at UrbanRail.Net




Sunday, September 8, 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. 


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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

GÖTEBORG Tram

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.  

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NORRKÖPING Tram

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 €).

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