Copenhagen Metro

The Copenhagen Metro is an automated (driverless) light metro.  It is a baby metro; it was first “born” in October 2002, then had two growth spurts in 2003 and one more in 2007 (to the Lufthaven!).  It is a baby size-wise too; the total network is just 12.7 miles, with two services (called M1 and M2) stopping at a total of 22 stations.  Still, it carries more than 50 million annually (or about 140k per day), which is more than any light-rail system in the US (except Boston’s Green Line) and about the same as LA’s Red/Purple line metro subway lines.

Map of the Copenhagen Metro (from their helpful international site at

As a “light metro” the trains and stations are baby-like too; each train is only three (articulated) cars long and about 130 feet long with a total capacity of 300.

One of the 34 Italian-made (AnsaldoBreda) driverless trains, at the combined M1/M2 western terminal, Vanlose. I should note that ATM Milan, the bus/subway/tram operator in the Italian city of Milan, is the contracted operator of the metro (I know, EU pro-competition practices and policies are a bit strange, at least to an American transportation planner!).

The interior of the train looking straight through from front to back.

There are three main things that make the Copenhagen Metro cool.  First and most important: frequency.  By far, the greatest part of (variable) operating cost for any public transport operation is labour cost – so driverless metros effectively break the linkage between service frequency and operating cost.  This means that the service can run very frequently all of the time (and also enables the economical use of short trains, which can perhaps mean cheaper infrastructure as stations can be smaller).  This is the same effect I reported about the Vancouver SkyTrain here.

Thanks largely to the driverless technology, the service is incredibly frequent - and don't miss the all night service!

That’s right, the relatively small and unknown Copenhagen Metro runs 24/7/365, with trains every 20 minutes overnight weeknights (same as NYC) and each service running every 15 minutes overnight on weekends.  I am pretty sure this makes it the only 24/7 metro service outside of the US (and there only the NYC subway, PATH, PATCO, and the Red and Blue Lines in Chicago).  Overall, the frequency is just awesome…the shared segment – the 9 stations from Vanlose to Christianhavn – have a train every 2 minutes during rush hours, every 3 minutes most other times, and up to every 7.5 minutes all night on weekends!

You can see the previous train just ahead in the picture. The driverless system combined with the modern signalling and control systems allow trains to operate very close together. Frequency is the name of the game, and this service delivers! 🙂

The second cool thing is the view out the front (or the back), thanks to the driverless system.  Besides being efficient (allowing for the frequent service), the whole driverless thing also gives you that futuristic vibe.

The view out the front is just tunnel underground - but the corrugated tunnel and watching the path ahead is pretty cool, I have to admit!

Here's the big front window - from this side you can see we are about to dive down into the tunnel section just west of Fasanvej.

The third cool thing about the Copenhagen Metro is the Danish design.  Maybe it will fade – and those Italian trains running so frequently 24/7 are already looking a little worn in spots – but the design is pretty slick modern.

This is the elevated Lufthaven Station at Kastrup Airport, where the simple combination of glass, steel, and concrete is somewhat striking.

This is the metro terminal at Vanlose, shared with the S-Tog lines C and H (above and to the right, through the bright building). This tower makes a nice contrast to the glass and steel of the modern metro; it dates from the area's former use as an in-and-out turnaround for a separate S-Tog line, today's F Ring line (which also served the rest of the current metro line in to Frederiksberg).

The underground stations are pretty sleek but all look identical - and the infrequent and matching station name signage makes it really hard to know which station is which. Plus, I have to say, the stations seem quite small, although with a maximum of 3-car trains there will never be that many people coming off a train at once.

All of the stations are built with the same (award-winning) design by the same architectural firm.  Of the 9 underground stations, 6 are deep-level; these are open boxes that are 66 feet wide, 66 feet tall, and 200 feet long, with the platforms exactly 59 feet below the surface.

This shot is repeated in many places as an emblem of the metro and its sleek Danish design. The design includes prisms and skylights to bring some degree of natural light into the deep spaces.

Overall, the metro is pretty cool – the frequency is awesome and the design is good, although a little repetitive and perhaps not likely to age all that well.  While it does serve the airport, the big destination Nyhavn and one end of the Stroget (both via Kongens Nytorv), and interchange with regional trains and the S-Tog (at Norreport and S-Tog again at the slick Flintholm integrated station), its less-than-comprehensive coverage does somewhat limit its usefulness, especially to visitors.  It misses Copenhagen Central Station and the many destinations around it – Tivoli, City Hall and its plaza/square, the western part of the Stroget, and Slotsholmen, the city’s government core.

These limitations will be at least partially resolved by the new Cityringen, or City Circle Line, now under construction and expected to open in 2018.  It will come close to doubling the size of the metro (15 more km with 15 new stations plus two interchange points with the existing lines), and will serve many of the missing destinations.  For more details, see the map below or go here.

Copenhagen's metro expansion will add a lot of utility to the existing system.


Posted on 31/08/2011, in Transit, travel, Travel to Europe and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Suzanne M-G

    This is REALLY slick! thanks for sharing. Wish Denver could do this!

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