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.


Monday, 5 August 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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


Trondheim Tram at UrbanRail.Net

Thursday, 1 August 2013


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

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

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

Bybane (Light Rail)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bergen Bybane at UrbanRail.Net

Sunday, 28 July 2013

OSLO T-bane & Tram

This was my first visit to Oslo after almost 10 years. I had come in autumn 2003 in preparation for my book 'Metros in Scandinavia' (still available!), so I focussed mostly on the T-bane system, although I did a bit of tram riding, too. This time (23-28 July 2013) I had a closer look at the tram system as the visit was in preparation for my forthcoming 'Tram Atlas Northern Europe'.

All in all, Oslo has quite an extensive urban rail network considering the size of the city (around 630,000 inh.) and its metropolitan area (about 1 million). There is a dense tram network that primarily serves the central area, a metro (T-bane) that primarily links the suburbs to the city centre, plus a frequent Lokaltog (suburban & regional rail) network for the larger urban area and region.


The most striking difference I noticed since I was here last is the completely renewed rolling stock on the T-bane. Back in 2003, all trains were still red, some older than others, and in the meantime, all have been replaced by new Siemens 3000-series 3-car sets. These are similar to the V train on the Vienna U-Bahn, wider, of course, as Oslo's T-bane trains are among the widest in the world at 3.2 m, allowing 3+2 seating in one row. Instead of red, the new trains were painted white with grey doors, but I guess that this was not a very good decision, as the white colour after a few years looks rather dirty, which becomes especially apparent when one of the older 3-car sets is coupled to a brand new one that still looks beautifully white. In any case, I would have preferred a red livery, much more noticable as a company brand, whereas the white trains look pale in the landscape, and I realised on the first day, which was covered with white clouds, that there is no contrast between train and sky. I would have to come back in the dark winter to see if the white trains look shiny then. Otherwise they are prefect, smooth ride, nice spacious interior, quiet, but probably too expensive for 'normal' cities (due to steep gradients they need more motorised axles and advanced brakes as well, I suppose) and that's why Siemens has recently come up with the trashy Inspiro metro train instead of developing this train to be used as their standard metro train.

The T-bane often reminds me of the Frankfurt U-Bahn. With rather long trains it carries large crowds, but despite the metro-like sections it does not really appear to be a proper metro. Except for line 1, all other sections are now grade-separated and operated with a third-rail power supply, but the route alignments, often very winding and steep) and especially the standard of the surface stations make it look rather like a typical German Stadtbahn: most surface stations are just an asphalted high-level platform with little more than a small shelter (again, I have never been here in the winter, but I guess people know their timetables well to avoid extra waiting in the cold...). Some have recently been upgraded along with a line upgrade (like currently on the eastern leg to Bergkrystallen or the entire Grorudbanen to Vestli), but the upgraded stops now appear to be modernised surface Stadtbahn stops in Frankfurt. The only exception is Ensjø, which has only recently received a more substantial upgrade and is now partly covered (awaiting construction on top of it), but as in many other cases, access to the station from the western side is still via a public bridge, i.e. if you want to get to the opposite side, you cannot get from one platform to the other inside the station, but need to take a detour (in other cases often quite long and badly signed) via a bridge that does not belong to the station complex. Some of the newer surface stations like Sinsen and Bekkestua at least have an overall roof structure with wooden elements, but cold winters may also have suggested fully encased stations here (like Kalasatama in Helsinki). Some of the underground stations, though pretty metro-style in layout, are not too pleasant, my negative favourite is Trosterud, which I renamed Trostloserud (trostlos in German is desolate). Luckily Carl-Berners-plass has been refurbished a bit with coloured glass panels, but the overall inpression is still that of a damp cavern, and a ceiling other than black would brighten the entire space up enormously (the same is true for Nationaltheatret). My favourite station remains Stortinget with its large and clearly laid out central vaukted hall, the wide ramps down to the platforms and an easily distinguishable colour scheme. Even the rather new and elegant Nydalen station appears very badly lit.

Line 1 up to Holmenkollen and Frognerseteren is a different case altogether. As a local expert told me, decisions in Oslo are not always predictable and rather spontaneous and this is probably how the Holmenkollbanen also became a 'metro' line with third-rail power supply. Ten years ago, it used to be mostly operated by the unpopular 2000-series, but now it is also operated by the Siemens 3000-cars, unsuitable for this line in many respects. First of all, the platforms, though somehow upgraded a few years ago, are too short for the 3-car trains, so only the doors in the first two cars can open. In a very user-unfriendly way, this policy is also maintained at Holmenkollen station, where the platforms were built for 6-car trains! and where most passengers (tourists that go to the ski jump) get off, completely confused by the fact that the doors don't open in the third car (though announced also in English several times on the route), but there can't be a technical or logical reason why the driver shouldn't open all doors at this station. Precaution, in case he/she forgets to switch it back to selective opening for the following stops? I would think that in a high-tech country like Norway this should actually be done automatically by the operation control system.

In any case, I think that the Siemens trains, good as they are on proper metro lines, are not the ideal choice for this route. They virtually torture themselves up the winding route at the lowest imaginable speed, both up and down, and leaving quite a wide gap at many platforms, as normal metro cars are simply too long for such a winding route. Ten years ago, there was some discussion whether the Holmenkollen line should rather get connected to the tram system. Technically, I guess it would have been wiser to use some sort of articulated light rail cars like the Alstom RegioCitadis. From a passenger's point-of-view it is certainly better to have it connected to the metro tunnel, but as only 3-car trains can be used, while on all other lines 6-car trains are the standard during most of the day, line 1 doesn't fit properly into the shared (overloaded) tunnel headway (and therefore for some time they were actually curtailed at Majorstuen, but passengers claimed a through connection into the city). Whichever route would be chosen to bring it into the city centre as a light rail line on existing or new tram tracks, this would certainly increase travel times. On the other hand, I found it quite a luxury that all line 1 trains go to the Frognerseteren terminus, which is only useful for walks through the woods, and trains were close to empty even on the best days of summer beyond Holmenkollen. The last houses are at Lillevann, but even that stop seems to be barely used during daytime, so terminating every other train at Holmenkollen (and opening all doors there) would just be as fine. It is not quite clear either why a third rail power supply was necessary on this line after more than a 100 years of overhead wires. The route still has many level crossings, where generally an overhead equipment seems safer, but I guess that maintenance is easier, especially in harsh winters, with a third rail. All level crossings are protected by automatic barriers. Otherwise, the formerly used switching from overhead to third rail, as has also been done in Rotterdam for many decades now, could have persisted in Oslo, too. I assume that the visual impact of the overhead equipment was not an issue here, as it is in many new tram cities, as the overhead lines had been on this line longer than most houses alongside it.

The junction where all western lines converge near Majorstuen station reminded me a bit of some 100-year old junctions on the London Underground. All branches diverge in a grade-separated junction, but especially outbound L2/5 trains crawl over the L1/6 tracks. Inbound trains often have to line up before getting into the busy tunnel. There are plans for a second city tunnel plus a new line to Fornebu (old airport area), and this would require a complete reconstruction of Majorstuen station into an underground transfer station, requiring new approaching tracks, but this could be another 20-30 years before it is built.

In general I was amazed that the T-bane runs its normal timetable also during the summer holidays, while the tram service (much busier on some routes like line 12 with tourists) was reduced from a normal 10-minute to a 15-minute headway. Most T-bane trains ran with 6 cars, when a 3-car set would have been more than enough.

What has also improved over the last years is the Ruter fare system. Previously those stations located in the municipality of Baerum, west of Oslo, were outside the Oslo zone and an extra fare was required. Now all T-bane stations and tram stops are within zone 1 (Oslo), so a 24-hour ticket for 80 NOK (some 10 EUR) or a 7-day pass for 220 NOK is enough to explore the urban rail system. And unlike other Norwegian cities, these passes are also good on the NSB suburban rail network (not on the airport train Flytoget – but you can get to the airport also easily on an NSB train! > 4 zones). Now mostly electronic tickets are used, a Reisekort for regular passengers, but available without an extra charge also when you buy a 7-day ticket, or an Impulskort for single tickets or 24-hour-tickets bought from vending machines or kiosks. Oslo, however, does not really take full advantage of these electronic tickets, as they just need to be validated once just like paper tickets used to. So, there is no exact statistics how many passengers are carried by which operator, in many other cities the primary reason to introduce such a system in order to distribute the revenue accordingly. Metro stations in the central area have proper ticket gates, but these were not in use (maybe they are at certain peak hours – but this would require at least one manned access as there are still some paper tickets left). The only ticket inspectors I saw in five days were at the ferry terminal on a nice sunny day...


Oslo's tram system, cutely called [elek]trikken has hardly changed over the last 10 years. The section from Disen to Kjelsas, which had suddenly been closed then, has reopened, though this section has some worn-out track, indeed. Otherwise the routes are pretty o.k. and the trams get through the city at an acceptable speed. Most stops have some sort of platforms, sometimes integrated into the pavement, although stepless boarding is a privilege for some passengers only, anyway. Most lines are operated with the older single-ended Duewag trams, reliable, but in this respect outdated and often too small. The Ansaldo trams, however, are double-ended and therefore required for lines 17 and 18, which don't have a turning loop at Rikshospitalet, as well as line 13 to go to Jar (see below). The Ansaldo trams, however, have proved very unreliable, so there is a continuous shortage of trams, and on line 13, a minibus carries the few passengers from Lilleaker to Jar, when a Duewag tram has to help out. I assume the same is true on lines 17/18 between John Colletts plass (loop) and Rikshospitalet. Strangely, the city or whoever is in charge now, has not taken a decision yet to order new (and reliable) and urgently needed rolling stock for the tram system.

I do not understand why line 13 needs to go to Jar and even to Bekkestua. To do so, a sophisticated grade-separated junction was built east of Jar, and the rebuilt metro line was equipped with both third-rail and overhead catenary. This shared section can only be operated with Ansaldo trams, of which there aren't enough, as the older trams are not equipped with the metro's control system. At the moment, this wouldn't be necessary anyway, as the short section between the junction and Jar is operated separately, the tram uses the southern track, and the T-bane the northern (thus operated single-track through the station), this leaves a very unpractical situation for transferring passengers, as the trams actually terminate at a special side platform to the south of the metro station. To avoid building a low-level platform next to the high-level metro platforms, Ringstabekk station will not be served by trams once these go through to Bekkestua. At Bekkestua, the defintive terminus for the trams, there are two stub tracks between the metro tracks, so here transfers will be quite convenient. But I wonder whether this sort of mixed tram/metro operation is worthwhile with all the technical difficulties and investment in infrastructure it required. My choice would have been for a good interchange station near Øraker.

But the worst impression left was the outside appearance of the Ansaldo trams. The cover of the bogies as well as the painting of the trams as such is worn out and rusty, very neglected. This may be due to more serious problems the workshops have to deal with (and the inavailability of the paintshop formerly located at Avløs depot).

The tram system hasn't been extended for a while, a line from Sinsen to Tonsenhagen had been planned for a long time, but has not materialised. Currently a new avenue is being built along the seafront near the Opera House, and tram tracks should run in the middle of it, although it is not clear yet whether this route would replace the current line 18/19 on their way into the city or complement it.

NSB Suburban Rail (Lokaltog)

A lot has been invested in the NSB rail system in recent decades, both in infrastructure and in rolling stock. Many sections in or near Oslo have been quadrupled by building long express tunnels, although 2-track bottlenecks remain between the four-track stations in the central area, Oslo S, Nationaltheatret, Skøyen and Lysaker. Routes are now properly numbered, so that the system is much easier to understand, with L1 and L2 providing a local service every 30 minutes, and L12 etc. an express service skipping some inner stations. R10 etc. run even further out into the region. There are even maps available with these routes, and these maps even show the zone boundaries clearly (some stations of the Lokaltog system are outside the 4-zone Ruter system!). 

While local services are mostly operated with refurbished class 69 trains from the 1970s, plus some Ansaldo partly low-floor trains (class 72), most regional services are worked by new Stadler FLIRT sets (classes 74+75), which due to a different front and a rounded belly look slightly different from the typical FLIRT, but inside they can easily be recognised as such. The Ansaldo trains offer a similar travel comfort to that of the FLIRT, but their green and silver livery plus green interior makes them look very Italian and like an outsider among the otherwise red/black livery of most NSB trains. Integration between Lokaltog and T-Bane is much better at Nationaltheatret than at Oslo Sentralstasjon, where the platforms have been set back towards the east since the cross-city tunnel was opened in 1980, while the metro station lies to the north of the railway station (the tram stops, however, are on the western side and also require quite a long walk to reach a Lokaltog!).


Ruter (Timetables etc.)

Oslo T-bane & Tram at UrbanRail.Net (incl. maps)

Monday, 15 July 2013


Besides the capital Riga, two rather small Latvian cities maintain modest tram systems, which I visited on my Baltic tour in July 2013 in preparation for my Tram Atlas Northern Europe, planned to be released in autumn 2013.


Liepaja is a coastal town in western Latvia, once an important Soviet military base, and now more of a seaside resort, home to some 87,000 people. The town's only line is just 7 km long, but as the urban area stretches mostly north-south, the tram can take the role of a primary axis through the town. It runs from the industrial area occupied by a metallurgical factory to the railway and bus station (there are only two passenger trains a week to Riga!), and then south towards the town centre located on the south bank of the so-called Trade Canal. The most central stop is called Kurzeme (Courland) after an adjacent shopping centre, although the square it is placed at is actually called Rožu laukums (Rose Square). It continues south and used to terminate at the central cementary until recently, when a new 1.6 km section was added at the end of May 2013 – this was in fact the first new tram line built in the Baltic States since 1984!

Liepaja's 1000-mm gauge tram line is in a relatively good shape. It is served by an almost homogenous fleet of Tatra KT4 vehicles, some original ones from Soviet times, and some second-hand trams purchased from East German cities such as Erfurt and Cottbus (inside they still display many German stickers like 'Notbremse' or 'Türöffner'). All trams are covered with full adverts, which gives each car a special identity, while it is not clear whether the tram company actually has a colour scheme in its cooperate identity. Some decorative elements at the new stops plus the website make me think that it could be green (there are also some green buses, while most other buses run in their original livery revealing they were purchased from some Swiss and other Western cities).

The new extension was, of course, a clear sign that the modest line will be maintained, and currently also upgrading of the old sections is in full swing (in summer 2013, the section between Kurzeme and Livas laukums is operated only on one track while the trackbed of the other track is completely renewed) but trams still keep running every 7-8 minutes, which I consider quite a good offer for such a small town. Most sections of the line are in fact on a dedicated sort of right-of-way, although this is not always clearly defined and cars may invade the reserved space, but generally the operation was fluid, albeit not too fast. The only sections with mixed traffic are the one across the bridge over the Trade Canal and along Ventas iela on the new section, where the roadway was raised at the Vainodes iela stop to slow down car traffic and allow better boarding. Most stops have (rather low) platforms, but at some boarding is required from street level. In any case, the platforms will still be too low for any kind of low-floor vehicles.

For a mere 1.50 LVL (approx. 2.13 EUR) one can use the tram and all buses during one day. A single ticket without transfer bought from the driver costs 0.50 LVL. Unlike other Baltic cities, which have invested a lot in the implementation of a smartcard system, Liepja maintains a German-style ticket system, i.e. you buy a book of single tickets or a day ticket at a kiosk and stamp it in the tram/bus. Tickets bought from the driver also need to be stamped!



Located in the far east of the country, Daugavpils is Latvia's second largest city, with some 100,000 inhabitants. The city is predominantly Russian-speaking (although Latvian remains the only official language), and its tram system is also typical Russian in many ways. I happened to be there on a Saturday, when the rolling stock in service was almost exclusively KTM 5 vehicles seen in many Russian cities as well. Although well-painted on the outside, they looked rather worn out and rusty inside, hoping to be replaced soon by new Belorusian trams ordered. So the future of the Daugavpils tram system seems to be secured, too. The tracks were in a rather bad state, but also here, track renewal work was going on between Ventspils iela and Saules veikals, with only one track available for operation. Line 1 was running pretty frequently for a Saturday afternoon, and even line 3 out to Stropi was quite busy with people going for a swim in the lake there. While line 1 runs every 7-8 minutes on weekdays, the other two lines have rather unusual headways, line 2 every 28! minutes and line 3 every 25 minutes, which results from the existing passing loops on the single-track sections, I suppose.


Only opened in 1946, the Daugavpils tram system features several single-track sections, notably the outer sections on lines 2 and 3. Interestingly, the stretch shared by all three lines is not in the city centre (which would be between Tirgus and Universitate), but on a section east of the bridge across the railway line. Most sections are separated from road traffic and features some kind of platform, which like in Liepaja, will not be high enough to allow proper level boarding once low-floor trams have been purchased.

While most passengers on St. Petersburg's trams, which I visited a month ago, now use a plastic smartcard to pay their fare, Daugavpils allowed me to experience a typical Russian tram conductoress selling single-trip paper tickets for 0.30 LVL (0.43 EUR).
Liepaja Tram (Official Site)
Liepaja Tram at UrbanRail.Net (incl. map)
Daugavpils Tram (Official Site)
Daugavpils Tram at UrbanRail.Net (incl. map)