The Copenhagen S-Tog is, literally, an S-Bahn system serving urban and surburan Copenhagen. By S-Bahn I am partially, of course, referring to the famous German systems (like Berlin, Munich, etc.); but all of these systems are a sort of hybrid between metro/subway/underground system and commuter rail/regional rail. In the US the best examples are BART in the SF Bay area and SEPTA’s regional rail network in Philadelphia. In short, these systems tend to operate with branches or tentacles that fan out in suburban areas and come together to join a trunk line to travel through the core of the city (and then do the same on the other side). This is compared to services in New York or London, where they tend to serve a single point (usually a large terminal) somewhere near the city centre and radiate from there. In general, the S-Bahn style is seen as more efficient and useful, so preferable – London’s US$25 billion+ Crossrail project is creating something like this.
Although Copenhagen has a virtually brand-new automated light metro (see separate post), the S-Tog has been the backbone of urban rail transport around Copenhagen for more than 75 years. It began in 1934, and is somewhat unique among similar systems in that, even though it uses normal tracks and travels adjacent to other trains, it is totally segregated from any other trains (e.g. intercity, etc.). This is very good in many ways, as it means that delays on other services can’t affect S-Tog trains…but of course it means that anywhere other trains run, there have to be separate tracks, which is expensive to build and maintain, etc.
The best part of the S-Tog is its simplicity. Once a train service gets too complex, everything can go wrong! There are six basic services – A, B, C, E, F, and H. Every route except F passes through the central core, serving Kobenhavn H and the 6 other stations in central Copenhagen. These 5 routes operate a basic 20-min timetable from about 5am-1am every day (and hourly all night on weekend nights), with 10-min headways on A, B, C, and E during the day Mon-Sat (typically from about 6am-7pm). This means that during the day there are 27tph passing through the central core in each direction (30tph during the morning rush hour with a handful of extra Bx trains) and 15tph nights and Sundays. While the arrangement is very simple, though, the threading of these different services (timing them to flow properly through the very busy core segment) is not easy at all!
The trains themselves are a bit unusual. They come as units of 4 or 8 pieces, where each piece is about 35 feet long and has one door and vestibule in the center, which has a full-height glass partition and sliding door on either side leading to the seating area. The space between each door, rather than the separate unit, really becomes its own car…and each of those spaces has 32 seats (or 48 if you cram them in 3 to a bench!). The trains are operated as any combination up to two 8-part units, which is about the length of a NYC IRT (lines 1-6) train.
Except for a part-tunnel/part-open cut section through the city centre, including one honest-to-goodness underground station (Norreport, which is also an interchange with the metro), the S-Tog is entirely outside; it is also entirely grade-separated, so there are some elevated segments as well, and this means that many stations are up or down from street level…but they seem to be quite accessible in terms of elevators.
The only line that doesn’t travel through the core area and serve Kobenhavn H is Line F, the Ringbanen, which makes a semi-circle around the city from Ny Ellebjerg (pictured above, interchange with lines A and E) in the south to Hellerup in the north (interchange with lines B, C, and E, plus the Oresundtag), stopping at 10 stations in between. This line runs on a 5-min headway weekdays and a 10-min headway evenings and weekends (30-min overnight on Fri and Sat) and also connects with each of other radial branches en route.
Flintholm, about halfway along the Line F Ringbanen, is a major interchange with the Copenhagen Metro and S-Tog lines C and F. Note above and below the massive steel and glass roof over the complex; the station opened in 2004 and has won awards for its design. There is a lot of transit-oriented development happening nearby, which makes sense given connections here.
A final point to make about the S-Tog is graffiti. Our hotel was overlooking the mess of tracks just south of Copenhagen Central Station (absolute coincidence, I swear!) and I saw lots of trains with lots of graffiti passing by. I wound up riding one on the S-Tog Line F on the Saturday, and I was amazed that they would operate such a vandalised train in service. Trains that are otherwise in very good condition look pretty shabby covered with tags. Maybe I don’t understand Danish graffiti culture, but it seems like a shame.
Overall, I liked the S-Tog. It is a simple but useful service, with good frequencies – especially within central Copenhagen. It uses the same ticketing system as the metro and area buses, so it is easy to use and well-integrated into the city fabric.