Thursday, 3 October 2019

COPENHAGEN - Cityringen (M3)

This is a follow-up to my report from 2013 when I last visited Copenhagen. This time I came to join the celebrations for the opening of the Cityringen, or metro line M3, which happened on 29 September 2019, luckily without any last-minute delay as had occured in Aarhus two years ago.

Osterport station - trains largely identical to M1/M2 trains

As a metro enthusiast, I was quite excited about this inauguration as with its 15.5 km and 17 stations, the ring line can be considered a major metro project for European standards, and something like this doesn't happen too often nowadays (besides some extensions in Moscow, the last was Barcelona's L9-South with 20 km in 2016 and probably next will be Thessaloniki, which is likely to become the continent's last new metro at all, and new tangential lines in Paris).

The construction of the Cityringen went quite smoothly as it seems, without major problems or delays and within a reasonable time frame of some 6-7 years, when virtually the entire inner city had to suffer from the construction sites, of course. These were limited to station areas as all the tunnels were excavated as single-track tubes. They often run beneath built-up areas and thus the line would be difficult to follow on the surface unless you are very familiar with the city. Talking about tube construction, as with the "old" lines, the alignment is very good and trains run at a good speed and take all curves very smoothly. At times they shake a bit, but to an acceptable degree. Accelerating and braking is also quite prefectly programmed, so no complaints on that side from my part.

Gammel Strand station - Cityringen has just opened (29 Sept 2019)

With a friend from the U.S. who happened to be in town we managed to get down into Gammel Strand station with the first crowd at 16:00 on Sunday, when the skies had cleared a bit after heavy rainfall had delayed the speeches at Radhuspladsen (including the Queen of Denmark!). We were surprised how well Metro managed the crowds, so trains ran at an acceptable load, though the windows got steamy soon so you could hardly see anything out the front or rear windows. We got off at a few stations, but didn't venture to go outside because we saw that they kept people from entering to avoid overcrowding, but I think in the end all got their chance to take a first ride (by the way, all metro and S-tog lines were free to use on that day!). Later we met up with a local expert and continued our first-day explorations, and surprisingly, all went smoothly, I didn't observe any disruptions or major delays typical for such occasions.

The stations basically follow the design of the old lines, but with some differences. But I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I saw the first stations as I had expected more colour, but in the end the use of coloured panels instead of the old concrete slabs is limited. There are several red stations, denoting interchange with S-tog services, one in green (Frederiksberg Allé) and a few with bricks rather than panels, but many have colourless plastic panels which are quite similar to the old stations:

Enghave Plads station - pleasant brick cladding

Frederiksberg Allé station - the only "green" station

Norrebros Runndel station

Norrebro station - all S-tog interchanges are red

Skjolds Plads station - similar to M1/M2 stations

Vibenshus Runddel station - decent colour, but hardly perceivable from platform level

Poul Henningsens Plads station - grey but with different pattern

Osterport station - busy S-tog interchange

Otherwise the station boxes are identical, with two flights of double escalators up and down - but unfortunately both up escalators still start at the same end position of each platform instead of having one at either end. I also found that the direction of the escalators is not well signed, especially on mezzanine level you basically have to look at the moving steps to see if they go up and down as there are no signs saying "to trains" or "ai treni" above the down escalators. Regular users will certainly get familiar and know that down is normally the escalator further away from the entrance. The issue I criticised in 2013 about the lack of escalators from the mezzanine to the surface has only been solved in a few places, notably in the richer municipality of Frederiksberg, where the entrances have therefore also been covered (in the case of Frederiksberg Allé built over with a new building) - by the way, the choice of the names Frederiksberg and Frederiksberg Allé for two adjacent stations is certainly not very ideal!

Frederiksberg station - covered escalators up to the surface

My major criticism is for the wayfinding system. Showing directions on circular metro lines is always a challenge, but there have been good solutions, notably on Madrid's L6. On Cityringen it is badly implemented, although the electronic next-train indicators handle it quite well by showing "via Frederiksberg" or "via Osterport" or whatever is the next major interchange in either direction. This is complemented by a running line of all stations served from that side of the platform:

Large screens show directions

There are accoustic announcements, in Danish and English, saying that the next train from "Spor/track 1" or "2" goes via so and so, but the track number is hardly visible, certainly not when you come down the escalator, and then you still have to search for it. What is completely missing, and not just on Cityringen but also on the old lines, is a partial strip map for each side of the platform. The funny thing is that this is a global convention from China to the USA, virtually on all metros of the world, but not in Copenhagen. So when you come down the escalators, there needs to be a strip map showing which stations can be reached most rapidly from the right side, and which stations from the left side. On most metro systems the stations of the line not served from that platform are shown in grey. 

Strip maps as displayed at end of platform, without indicating which side of the platform

There is a strip map even in Copenhagen, but it shows the entire line and not as a circle, but as a straight line, and does not hint to the respective side of the platform. This can easily be retrofitted and I hope it will be done soon. In fact those partial strip maps should also be added to the respective platform screen doors so people can be sure they are waiting at the correct side. Apart from that, all stations have a nice metro map with the Cityringen shown as a proper circle and future-proofed with M4, saying that the northern branch to Orientkaj is about to open in 2020:

Talking about maps and information, only at certain stations of the metro system, a "Welcome to Copenhagen" brochure is available and only in English and only about the metro, otherwise I'm still missing a proper customer service centre, I have not seen any although now many staff were still around on M3 to help passengers. Luckily I grabbed a few small metro maps on opening day, as later during normal service I didn't see them anywhere.

Strip map inside trains (with line M3 "starting" at Trianglen), not future-proof for southern M4 branch

To improve orientation for passengers on the train, additional station name signs would be useful on the otherwise empty inner walls, so passengers can see through the train window easily where they are as the signs on the platform are hardly visible from the train, most of the obstructed by the escalators. This could easily be done by adding simple stickers as the area is quite vandalism-safe.

As said before, the stations are largely identical to the older ones, but now have two lifts to guarantee their availability. Some stations have secondary entrances, but only via a bicycle storage room, even the centrally located Radhuspladsen station! These bike rooms are colourful and are mostly painted in a strong orange.

Two lifts at each station, and most with skylights

Lovely logo, here at Nuuks Plads

A much brighter logo sits now next to all stations, which has also been implemented at some older stations. The only station with a significantly different layout is Marmorkirken where the platforms are on different levels on top of each other due to the limited space available:

Marmorkirken - bi-level station

There are two lifts, one at either end of the platforms, plus numerous sets of escalators, two in each direction, and connecting 4 levels, so that adds up to at least 16 escalators if I have counted correctly.

The interchanges with other lines only deserve an "ok". Cityringen crosses the old lines twice: at Frederiksberg this is quite ok, you walk up one level from M1/M2 and walk around the corner and down a few levels to M3 - what's weird here is that all escalators, up and down, point away from you instead of resulting in a logical flow from one line to the other. I doubt that the southern exit at that station is more important than the interchange.

At Kongens Nytorv the situation is not ideal either but "ok". Unfortunately, it was a historic mistake to not make this station future-proof as an interchange from the start. The old station is pretty deep, so the new station had to be placed almost at sub-surface level, but of course, the tube tunnels require a certain depth. So from the old line you also have to come up all the way to the mezzanine (two long escalators), then walk a bit longer than at Frederiksberg through a vast mezzanine and then down one level (for which three sets of escalators have been installed). 

Kongens Nytorv - mezzanine and transfer corridor

Kongens Nytorv - wider platform than usual

There are no direct lifts from the surface to the Cityringen platform, you need to change lifts at mezzanine level. But what I found more disappointing at the most central station is the lack of other entrances and the bad layout of the only one existing. When I arrived at Kongens Nytorv on foot from Marmorkirken via Store Kongensgade, I was expecting an entrance at that corner of this large square, but none in sight, so you have to cross a major road to get to the entrance and then walk back to the platform. Once down on the platform I realised that there was actually a rear exit (the sign only said "Exit" - funnily they only use the English word on this line and not "Udgang"), but no indication to where this exit leads. 

Kongens Nytorv - corridor leading to secondary exit

So I walked out that way, up one level where it suddenly turned direction and after some 100m of granite-clad tunnel, it leads to an exit next to the opera house, well, more or less across the street from the main entrance! So many questions starting with "why" came to my mind! Why is there no proper second mezzanine on the north side of the Cityringen station with an exit towards Store Kongensgade and another one towards Nyhavn, the busy restaurant area, and instead a misleading exit towards Tordenskjoldsgade - misleading because if you enter the station complex here and actually want to take an M1/M2 train, it will take you on a long detour. This entrance should lead into the large mezzanine directly! This is really weird as Kongens Nytorv has been a contruction site for the last 25 years and now it is badly done! At least the fixed stairs from the mezzanine to the surface have been completely rebuilt and are now much less steep than they used to be - so maybe my criticism has helped...

As for interchanges between M1/M2 and M3, these options are not announced accoustically like "Change here for lines M1 and M2!", neither are there any announcements like "Change here for the S-tog/S-train".

Norrebro - open-air interchange with elevated S-tog

At Norrebro the interchange between metro and S-Tog will be as good as is possible in that situation, with two sets of escalators as well as lifts being added to the elevated S-tog side platforms, and here also escalators have been installed between the surface and the mezzanine in the metro station. As with the other S-tog/metro interchanges, the facility has not been finished yet.

At Osterport, a connecting pedestrian tunnel is still under construcion, but in the meantime, metro passengers have to use a set of temporary stairs to come to the surface and walk around the construction site to get to the railway station. To comfort them, metro staff are handing out vouchers for free coffee at 7-Eleven... Just as we will see at the Central Station, the lifts are located at the "wrong" end of the station for people changing to S-tog or other trains services.

Kobenhavn H - metro entrance at rear side of railway station, with tiny logo

Kobenhavn H - on the left, future interchange tunnel to S-tog and other trains

The location of the metro station at Kobenhavn H is far from ideal. It is certainly at the back side of the station, and maybe not the best side either. From a logical point of view, it should really have been located on the eastern side where there is a main entrance to the railway station, possibly with an access directly within the station concourse as any world traveller would it expect to be. To serve the area west of the station, possibly an additional station would have been needed. But complaining about this now doesn't help us anyway. When the later planned direct transfer tunnel is completed, interchange between metro and trains will be quite ok, though through a very narrow tunnel. Until then you have to leave the metro station and hope that many people head for the railway station, because from where you surface you don't see any sign at all where the railway station is or where to access it. The rear entrance is very small for a major railway station and has no sign whatsoever, just the usual crowd of people thrown out of the station by the police hanging around there... What's also surprising at this location is the tiny logo indicating the metro station, only denoting secondary bicycle entrances at other stations. And again, the lifts are at the other end of the station, so for passengers coming to the surface with their luggage using the lifts, the orientation will even be less easy.

All in all, Copenhagen has certainly grown up with the opening of this line. I still remember that Copenhagen was something like the largest non-metro city in Western Europe when I started in the mid-1990s, and now it is very well covered by a swift system. And it seems to be very popular among the local population, forgotten are the initial troubles and it is perceived as a very reliable system. Maybe even victim of its own success, the Metro company now has increased fares, i.e. to use the metro you have to pay a surcharge on certain tickets, and monthly pass holders have to decide whether the metro is included or not. This is certainly a wrong step as Copenhagen has always had good fare integration and breaking this is a step backwards. But maybe the Metro company actually wants to dissuade people from using their trains to avoid overcrowding as trains do get pretty full during rush hour. The next logical step would therefore be to increase capacity, this could maybe be done by adding a fourth car, but possibly some stations wouldn't be able to handle the crowds anyway. Notably Kongens Nytorv which has always been a busy station as it serves the Old Town, and now as a transfer station it will even have to handle more people. Now a train arrives about every 90 to 120 seconds during peak hours in either direction, not really enough time to empty the platform before the next train discharges its passengers. Norreport station may be relieved a bit as many passengers will now change to Cityringen instead of the S-tog.

Carlsberg S-tog station replaced Enghave station in 2016

While the metro is now the popular means of transport in Copenhagen, the S-tog is losing terrain as it is aging. Many trains carry graffiti and also stations are not always in good shape. The system is currently being upgraded with CBTC which may ultimately lead to driverless operation, which would be a first on a suburban rail system derived from a mainline railway (like the Berlin S-Bahn, the Copenhagen S-tog is completely separate from the rest of the Danish rail system and has a different voltage). The super-wide trains are still fun to ride, but the bundled route along the central corridor is a bottleneck. So the CBTC system is supposed to allow a more stable timetable. At Copenhagen Central Station, the S-tog has two tracks in each direction, but at the other stations just one. Norreport is a special problem, as it is supposed to be the busiest station in Denmark, but with just two S-tog and two regional train platforms. It is also the ugliest and most neglected station, I'm afraid, and for such a busy station, there is no customer service centre anywhere, although new buildings were added at surface level. At the Central Station, DSB maintains a rather small traditional ticket office, and as for some reason I couldn't buy my return ticket online (DB said it was too late) I had to queue there to get my ticket to Berlin - I felt like in a Renfe station back in the 1980s... As the S-tog is run by DSB, I imagine that they also handle questions about the S-tog. There is someone at the door who in most cases sends you to the self-service ticket machines, though. These are easy to use and also sell City Pass tickets, the day passes for all means of transport, available as a "small" or "large" City Pass, not a very intuitive distinction. The "small" one is the real City Pass as it covers the city as such plus the airport, while the "large" one should really be called "Region Pass" instead, or "City+Region Pass" or so. Both passes are available for from 24 hours to up to 120 hours!

As for my complaint about a non-existing face to the integrated transport system, there is one now, though only to a limited extent! It is called DOT which stands for Din Offentlige Transport (Your Public Transport). They have a website with some useful info and their logo is everywhere on all vehicles, also metro and S-tog trains, but it's not really a transport authority nor does it have an information office.


Copenhagen Metro (Official Website)


  1. This certainly seems to be a well executed project (though not perfect, as you detail). However, I think it would have been a better investment of the same money to build several at-grade tram lines running through the city center. It is easy to identify about 4 major radial corridors (roads) not currently served by rail. Such a system would take most passengers directly to their destination, saving time compared to a circular metro ride that goes far out of their way. It would also avoid the time penalty of entering and exiting the tunnel, and of course would cover many more destinations due to the lower cost per km.

    1. Eric, metro vs. tram is an old discussion, but "tram-only" advocates usually forget that no tram system is able to carry as many passengers as a metro can. In any case, this discussion would have to be held 20 years ago when this project was born, so we can't change that now anyway. And as for now, I would say if you make a referendum in Copenhagen about metro or tram, I guess metro would win. You are right about some radial corridors, but I do not really see any viable tram corridor through the inner city in a north-south direction like Cityringen does now. For future stages, I can also think of converting some heavily used bus corridors, like line 5, to tram operation. But the cost per km argument is not decisive, the choice has to be made by which means of transport is the best for each corridor. By the way, I think there is no circular metro line in the world that isn't extremely successful, despite some extra detours, as they help to avoid crowded city centre interchanges.

  2. Thanks for the report, I'm in Copenhagen a couple of times a year and enjoying taking the Metro, especially if I get the front seat.
    I agree that here should be better signage when you arrive at a station so that you can see where you are. Even though I understand Danish, I can't always hear the announcement on the train because of ambient noise.
    Bit baffled by your use of "ai treni" in you signage critique. That's not Danish, looks like a romance language

    1. "Ai Treni" is indeed Italian, and I gave it as an example as this is what you'll find in all or most Italian metros - not trying to impose Italian in Copenhagen...

  3. I was thinking that you used “ai treni” because the M3 is mostly made by Italian companies, with Italian trains and controls and the company that operate the services is Italian

  4. Finding the metro from the railway station at Köbenhavn H is even worse than the other way around. There are some very discreet signs in the concourse directing you to the exit at Renventlowsgade. Out on the street there is no signage whatsoever on were to go. If you, by guessing, choose the right direction, you will finally find a very small M post, beside some stairs, tucked in behind a construction site.
    Down on the mezzanine there is a poster saying that a tunnen to the railway station will open in spring 2020, but than is far enough ahead to set up some temporary signs.
    Also, there is no mobile phone coverage in the new tunnels. As there is in the old ones, I assume that this is going to be fixed.
    Also, the stations look very indistinctive from the train. No colours to wake you up at the correct station.

  5. Thanks a lot for this fine review of the new Metro line here in Copenhagen. I very much agree with you and I can't help adding a few comments of my own.

    I have also noticed the strange decision to have two escalators going in the same direction at each end of the platform. I don't know if they try to control the passenger flow in this way. But last time I was at Gammel Strand, they actually had one escalator going each way at each end so at least it's possible to change this.

    I'm not sure why the municipality of Copenhagen has not opted for escalators all the way up but I'm guessing that it's some sort of design decision in order to preserve some "rusticness" in the public spaces.

    My biggest criticism would also be the Metro's ideal of "Nordic minimalism" in the design, or rather how they take it to an extreme where it detracts from the user friendliness. I actually like the minimalist design with the stations' toned-down colours but it's often a problem that the signage is equally minimalistic, e.g., as you mention, the absence of strip maps and track numbers. Let us hope that they add it at some point. At least they were finally convinced to mark the back entrance of the stations a few years ago after having claimed for years that it was against their design programme!

    The station names can indeed be difficult to see from the trains and the signage of interchange possibilities at Frederiksberg and Kongens Nytorv should be much more visible. At Frederiksberg, the (small) signs leading from M1/2 to M3 were not added until weeks after the opening, and I personally witnessed locals who could not find their way. In Paris, there would have been a large yellow sign saying "correspondance". (to be continued)

  6. (continued) As for the signs saying "exit" in English only, I find this highly criticisable. To be sure, the word "exit" also exists in Danish but only in the sense "the act of leaving a place or a context", not in the meaning of "exit". In the case of an emergency, I would want people to run for the exit, not for the act of leaving a place or a context. I actually asked the company why the exit from an underground metro (of all places) had no signage in the majority language but I have not received an answer. In return, the signs saying "spor" ("track") are only in Danish... I am sure that these are some deliberate, minimalistic design choices but I find it silly to make things difficult (and potentially dangerous) by purpose.

    As for the access to Kongens Nytorv, I agree that it's counter-intuitive to lead people down to the north end of the M3 platform and only then up to the concourse in the south end, particularly because the north entrance makes a huge detour to the south before surfacing at the Royal Theatre. I am baffled by the user-unfriendly layout here - my guess is that they don't want an exit in the middle of the square in order not to overload the already congested pedestrian crossing at Nyhavn (Kongens Nytorv has always been plagued by the roads surrounding it on all sides) but this solution is certainly far from ideal. Hopefully, another exit from this tunnel in the middle of the square plus an additional tunnel to the concourse can be added in the future. But not without digging up half the square and uprooting the trees again… I'm afraid that there is no space for an exit directly at Nyhavn.

    As for the situation at the Central Station, it will be somewhat mitigated by the new tunnel leading to the station's main platform tunnel, but certainly there should also have been a tunnel leading to the Central Station concourse itself. If the south-east corner of the station is rebuilt/rearranged at some point, it might even be possible to add it, but not without considerable construction work. And the sign at the open-air entrance is indeed all to small - because the main entrance with the "main sign" is at the south end, and apparently there can be only one - again this obsession with design. (to be continued)

  7. (continued) The hyperminimalism also dominates the loudspeaker announcements and indeed means that interchange possibilities are not announced. Hopefully this will change. At least the names Frederiksberg and Frederiksberg Allé (both of which are to ingrained in the population to be changed, I am afraid) should be pronounced stressing the word "Allé" in the latter case, not the word "Frederiksberg" as is the case now…

    But actually my main critique of the system is that it's badly integrated with the S-train system because it's not possible to change to the Metro from the radial S-train lines before you are already at the city centre (Østerport and the Central Station). In the latter case it.s not so serious because the three south-western lines do not meet before Dybbølsbro station anyway, one stop from the Central Station (and the Frederikssund line is already connected to M1/2). But it beats me why the Metro does not pass Svanemøllen station where the three northern radials meet. I can see why M3 as a ring line can not stray off this far from its trajectory, but surely M4 should have done so. It will pass by Nordhavn station of course, but since it doesn't stop at Trianglen (and why on earth not?), the next stop is Østerport anyway, so you might as well stay in the S-train until there.

    I think that this isolates the Metro and the S-train systems unnecessarily from each other. The Metro has indeed been criticised for "ignoring the suburbs", but I agree that it wouldn't be profitable to serve them by Metro. However, a better integration between Metro and S-trains could have been possible.

    Now, I have criticised a lot, and I don't want to be unfair: Although I'm a tram enthusiast, I am actually very impressed by the new Metro line. It's fast and smoothly running, and I like the design choices in many other ways.

    And since I believe that it should never be an either/or between trams and metros in cities with more than a million people - they should be served by all three levels (trams, metros and trains), as indeed 31 out of 34 million cities in Europe are (this is standard equipment, so to speak) - then at least the deficits of the Metro system will uphold the need for the much-to-be-hoped-for reintroduction of tramways in Copenhagen, e.g. from Svanemøllen (and further north) through Østerbro to the city centre, from Nordvest and Nørrebro to the city centre (because the very winding trajectory of the M3 will still make this direct connection relevant) plus further suburban lines. I realise that Nørreport can be a bottleneck for tramways but Nørrevoldgade actually has bus lanes or a broad median (a former tramway alignment!) almost all the way through, and otherwise, Nørre Farimagsgade is a broad street too. And although I remain skeptical towards new road construction, an eastern bypass tunnel might actually reduce car traffic in the centre in the future, paving the way for trams in this very tram-hostile city...

    Nochmals schönen Dank für diese Rezension.


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