Øresundståg, the Øresund Bridge, and Travel to Sweden
Copenhagen is the center of the Øresund Region, which is a “transnational” region on both sides of the Øresund strait. The region is comprised of the main city itself and surrounding parts of Zealand (Sjælland) in Denmark as well as Malmo (the 3rd-largest city in Sweden) and surrounding Scania (Skåne) in southern Sweden. Combined, the region has nearly 3.8 million people.
The region is connected by the Øresund Bridge, which is actually a bridge-tunnel carrying a two-track railway line and four-lane highway across the Øresund strait and linking Denmark and Sweden. This amazing engineering feat, therefore, also links the road and rail networks of mainland Europe to the rest of Scandinavia.
A few quick facts – the bridge opened on July 1, 2000 and is actually a three-part crossing. It begins in the Kastrup area of the island of Amager (near Copenhagen Kastrup Airport) with Drogden Tunnel, which is about 2 1/2 miles long. The tunnel was created to both avoid a high bridge so close to the airport and to allow an open shipping channel. The next part is Peberholm (Pepper Islet), an artificial island created partly from the output of the bridge/tunnel construction, which is also about 2 1/2 miles long. Of course, this is where the road and railway come out of the tunnel and transition to the bridge. Note that the name was chosen to match a natural islet just to the north which was previously named Saltholm 🙂 Finally, the bridge part is the longest, at nearly 5 miles long. So, altogether about 10 miles from Denmark to Sweden.
Since the link opened, the daily volume of people using the crossing has more than doubled, as is now about 30,000 per day on close to 200 daily trains and more than 40,000 daily in cars. So, how much does it cost? Well, the toll for cars paying cash (each way, as far as I can tell!) is a whopping US$58! And try double that at US$116 if your vehicle is longer than about 19 feet (e.g. big van/camper/motorhome) or if you have any sort of trailer. Don’t worry, though, I can save you – a train ticket is only about US$13. There are also cheaper options for frequent users – 25% off for a 10-trip card, or about 50% off with an annual membership fee of about US$50.
There’s a lot of interesting things happening here, regarding the merging of two countries and cultures and the spirit of the EU (there are no border controls, but of course there are different currencies and languages on each side) – but of course I’m going to focus on the train stuff here. I highly recommend reading the bridge authority’s 10-year anniversary report if you are interested: 10 Years – The Oresund Bridge and its Region.
So, let me talk about the Øresundståg, or Sound Train regional rail network centred on the bridge-tunnel connection.
From not existing in 2000, the service is pretty comprehensive; apparently about 80% of passengers are Swedish, as the network serves more of Sweden and brings the Swedes over into Copenhagen. Importantly, the trains also serve Copenhagen Kastrup Airport (the largest in Scandinavia) and provide a fast (12-minute) link between the airport and Copenhagen Central Station every 10 minutes.
Generally speaking, there is a 20-min headway from Helsingor at the north end of the Coast Line (Kystbanen) north of Copenhagen through central Copenhagen, past the airport, and over the bridge to Malmo and Lund, then each of the long branches is served once an hour. There are then additional short trips from Niva along the Coast Line to the airport through the Copenhagen core. The trips from Hensingor to Gothenburg are pushing 4.5 hours long!
The trains are Bombardier EMUs, and are pretty nice…they have a large open area in the low-floor with room for bikes, luggage (helpful given the airport connection), etc. and folding seats. It can be hard to design a train that is useful for short trips (like the 12 minutes from Copenhagen H to the airport) and long trips too…but this seems to do a pretty good joband then even have vending machines for water and sodas! The trains are also a bit special because they have to handle different signalling systems and even different electrical systems in each country – not to mention the fact that Danish trains run on the right while Swedish trains run on the left (like the UK, a nod to their pre-1967 heritage of left-hand driving), so a changeover around Malmo is required.
Astrid and I used the service to go north along the Coast Line (Kystbanen) to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (see forthcoming blog post!). The line dates to 1897 and is the busiest line in Denmark, and the stations have a pleasing, consistent look to them, with a combination of historic brick buildings and modern accommodations like bridges and elevators.
I decided to also talk about our train travel from Copenhagen to Stockholm in this post, as we traveled from Copenhagen Central Station along the Oresund Line and across the bridge to Malmo and beyond. When we planned this trip, I started trying to figure out how to book the train, what it would cost, etc. After some research I figured out that the cheapest tickets are only released 90 days ahead, so I set a calendar reminder to book the train exactly 90 days before the date. It was a success – for the 5-hour, ~400-mile journey we paid only 176 SEK per person…which is US$28. Keep in mind, the toll to cross the bridge in a car alone would cost more than the train ticket for both of us the whole way! I was quite excited because this was the X2000, Sweden’s premium highish-speed tilting train.
I already posted about how our train left from Track 26 here – something should be done about that! Unlike many of the waiting passengers, I at least realized that the train there at the appointed time was branded DSB (Danish State Railways), not SJ (Swedish State Railways), but the electronic signs were stuck on something earlier and there were no staff to help. Once the train finally pulled in, we left about 20 minutes late (apparently due to sort of problem and resulting congestion around the Oresund crossing).
Once we left Copenhagen, X2000 train 546 made the trip smoothly and pretty much kept to planned time (meaning, we got to Stockholm just about 20 minutes late also). I have to say, this was the most comfortable coach/economy seat I’ve ever had on a train! There was plenty of leg room, and the seats moved within a fixed envelope – meaning that reclining did not impede the person behind you at all, and the seat part moved forward when the back slid back, creating a more comfortable reclining effect (I understand that this is being considered for airplanes, but the problem is that with so little room between rows, it just doesn’t work as well). For trains, though, this is genius and should be applied everywhere (I’m talking to you, UK train companies)!
I should mention that the train had power outlets and wifi as well, but as there was a charge for the wifi for those not in first class we decided to just look out the window, eat our cheap food that we picked up at the station, and read up on Stockholm to be ready for the following two days!
The Swedish countryside was remarkable flat most of the way, although punctuated by lots and lots of lakes, and some hills and tunnels once we got close to Stockholm. I tried to get some pictures of the wind farm in the middle of the Oresund while we were crossing the bridge, but the moving train and the bridge supports (since the tracks are on the lower level, below the roadway) it was tough.
Overall, this was a very pleasant train journey. The train goes up to 127mph, so I call it highish-speed because real high-speed is defined as about 150mph or higher – this is the same performance as the Amtrak Northeast Regional trains on the NEC, and slightly less than the Acela. Most of the time I think the train was probably going about 80-100mph; but the important part is that the average speed (including stops) was somewhere around 70-80mph, which is much better than Amtrak, including the Acela (which comes in at about 66mph, I believe). This is achievable because the train uses tilting technology (see more details here) very effectively to go about 15% faster on curves than regular trains. The tilting was actually very noticable, but very smooth – at first it made Astrid a little woozy, but she got used to it. It did have a blinding effect near sunset as the tilting would suddenly reveal the bright setting sun!
Posted on 19/09/2011, in Transit, travel, Travel to Europe and tagged Øresund, Øresund Bridge, Øresund Region, Copenhagen, Copenhagen Central Station, high-speed train, oresundtag, X2000. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.