Wednesday, 4 September 2013

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.



  1. There are tangible plans to extend Tvärbanan from Sickla udde to Sickla station at Saltsjöbanan, see

    Besides, the narrow-gauge railway in northern Stockholm county is called Roslagsbanan, not Roslågsbanan:-) /Måns Petterson, Stockholm

  2. called Roslagsbanan, not Roslågsbanan...

    Thanks, I have fixed that.

  3. 1. It's also called Spårväg City - not "Sparväg". The meening of the word "spar" is the same like in German and noone can say that this extension of the tram had saved any money...

    2. The place Älvsjö is spelled wrong twice in the same sentence... ("Alvsjö")

    3. Something that I miss in your blog is any word about the second branch of Tvärbanan (the new nortern section), called Kistagrenen (the Kista branch). It will take off just north of the "Norra Ulvsunda" stop (your picture), pass Bromma Airport, a possible station on the pendeltåg at Solvalla (between Sundbyberg and Spånga), continue to Rissne on the blue line, the new developed area of Stora Ursvik up to Kista (though not exatly at the metro station) before it ends at Helenelund station at the pendeltåg.

    Se this link below. It's in Swedish, but please scroll down to the map and you will get the picture clear. The text from SL's official site is not updated (if you any have chance to get it translated). What has happened lately, is that the financing has been cleared out and the construction works will probably start in 2016 with the opening in 2018 or 2019. The urban planning process for the sections has started in the three municipals of Stockholm, Sundbyberg and (for the last 100 meters or so)in Sollentuna.

    4. In the news section with "next openings" on the main urban rail site, the date for the opening of the first part of the northern extension of Tvärbanan has been decided to October 28 (this year!). You have only put "October" so far.

    Thank for a very good web site!

  4. Sorry about these spelling mistakes, I do get confused, even more after travelling through all Scandinavian countries where the same words are often spelt differently, and in the end it's all a mental mess...

    I didn't comment on the future Tvärbana branch, because it seems to far away, but all in all I think it is a good idea to expand this tangential system.

  5. Tack, Robert, för dina fina (och lite mindre fina) kommentarer om Stockholms lokaltrafik. Jag håller med om bristerna. :-)

  6. Glad you enjoyed your journeys on the Stockholm rail system. I moved from the UK to Auckland (also featured on your blog here) and now live in Stockholm and I can quite categorically say that living in Stockholm with the SL system is bliss. Sure, there are problems now and again, but we don't own a car, and we (my wife and I) think that the Stockholm system really is one of the best we've used, despite using many of the more "exciting" systems in Asia.

    One thing that was picked up in other comments is about the Kista (read: Helenelund) extension of the Tvärbanan. At least the funding for this stretch is now approved. This light rail will also make travel much easier across the northern section of the city and make the network less radial. Coupled with that is Spårväg Syd - a light rail (or BRT) line across the south of Stockholm. This will be like the Tvärbana of the south and will make commuting between the red line, green line and pedeltåg much easier.

    You can also observe some of the other projects under construction/consideration in Stcokholm at the moment too on this site. Less "sexy" projects such as Malarbanan ( ) are going to increase pendeltåg reliability vs. long distance trains in anticipation of the completion of Citybanan. This is an important step in western Stockholm for improving the pendeltåg.

    One thing, and only one major thing I wish for Stockholm is that talking about projects didn't take so long. They talk and talk, but it does take a lot of time for things to actually start. The tunnelbana extension to Nacka is a prime example as well as the new transport to service the new city district of Hagastaden between Stockholm city centre and Solna (but all of that is covered on the SLL link I sent to you).

    Still, very glad you enjoyed yourself and I hope you come back here soon! I always enjoy reading your thoughts and think your website is fantastic.

  7. In September 2015 I am posting an entertaining HD video of scenes all over the Tunnelbanan


Tell us your experience of this transport system!