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.  



  1. Additional impressions from my visit in June 2013:

    - Apart from the Sirio trams, there are M31 trams (high-floor with a low-floor section) and M28/M29 trams (without a low-floor section) which were constructed between 1965 and 1971 (they oldest trains will be more than 50 years old when they are put out of service). Compared to the Sirio trams, they seem to do their job quite well, but look quite historically with light bulbs in the interior and a strange seating arrangement (the window seat is moved forward a few cm - perhaps it's intended to simplify passing the person sitting on the aisle seat, but I found it quite inconvenient).

    - There are no stationar ticket vending machines as you would expect in a city of that size, not even at Brunnsparken or Central Station. The ticket machines inside the older trains are quite simple: They only offer single tickets and it's only possible to pay with coins or using an old-style credit card reader. While natives can use SMS ticketing instead, getting special tickets like day passes turns out to be a problem for foreigners coming to the city (like me), but once you know it, you'll find the whole ticket range offered in 7-eleven stores.

    All in all, large parts of Göteborg's extensive tram network are located on a separate right-of-way, but considering rolling stock and "soft" factors, it is still far from being a state-of-the-art light rail.

  2. I have been to Göteborg this year, and i had the same problems. I arived to the Göteborg City Airport, and from there one can only take local bus nr. 36, which departs every hour. The stop is simple, no ticket vending machine, nothing. You also cannot get any ticket in the airport itself, which is quite bad. If you don't have a swedish mobile you cannot get a ticket. We tried to buy it from the driver, but he said, he cannot give us tickets. We had both cash, and credit card, but none of them worked... The driver was friendly, and allowed us to get on the bus without ticket, and showed us a kiosk at the inner terminus, where we can buy tickets. The zone-system is also confusing. You cannot go to Mölndal with a one-zone ticket, but you can get on the ferry at Saltholmen, and go with it till the last island (Vrangö), which is 5-6 km-s off the coast of Göteborg, but still are part of Göteborg. So you can go from Vrangö till Angered with boat and trams 20km's in one zone, but cannot go with the same ticket to Mölndal, which is 5 km's from the city center.

  3. The operator om the tram is called Göteborgs Spårvägar (not "Göteborg Spårväger") with an "s" after the name of the city and an "a" instead of an "e" in the last part of the word.

    You Robert and the ones who have comment it, are all very right about the confusing information of the local transport. It's absurd!

    Some years ago they didn't have have just a winter timetable and a summer time table like in any other place, but also some kind of "between season timetable" that should be used TWICE for a few weeks every year. When the winter timetable ended in the beginning of June (!) you used this timtable for about two weeks in the middle of June, BEFORE ýou changed to the summer timetable valied for about four weeks and then you had to GO BACK to the "between season timetable" for two weeks before the new "Winter" timetable started in the end of August! When I say "timetable" I don't meen only the schedule but the whole network was changed with three different networks used for four different times of the year. They never changed the maps for the network at the stops. It was allways the "winter network" so absolutley NOTHING was correct in June, July and August. I don't know if it's still like that, I'm happy I live in Stockholm...

    1. >>>is called Göteborgs Spårvägar (not "Göteborg Spårväger")<<<

      Thanks, fixed that!

  4. I've just visited Gothenburg and I have to agree with conclusion that tram system is messy to say the least. It has like 3 separate lines leading to same places for instance (ex. 5,4,11) which is quite messy and confusing, at least for me. I am from Sarajevo, which, as you probably know hosts Europe's first tram line (and third oldest in world if I recall properly, right after Tokyo and San Francisco) and I am used to simple line going from one side of the city to the other. I guess Austro-Hungarians liked the simplicity :D Anyway, I sadly cannot call the tram lines in gbg nice thanks to the messy system they for themselves into. I agree about the tickets as well, and the funniest thing was that busses operate on nearly identical lines which seems weird..

  5. btw,I LOVE the tram system in Amsterdam, at least the ticketing. One can buy tram tickets with kilometers as measure and it's super cheap, simple and can be bought and charged on the tram itself which usually hosts a tiny kiosk. Really a model for proper rides.


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