Copenhagen Public Transit

For those who have observed my numerous references to public transit and bicycle culture, you may have wondered why I didn’t address the topic in greater detail. Indeed, it’s not because I haven’t thought about it but rather because the topic is so immense that I felt I needed to do some research before posting on it.

Given the volume of information and pictures, I thought I would do a series under the general title of “Transportation” with a couple of posts on Public Transportation followed by several on bicycle culture. So hang on and get ready for the ride; Copenhagen rules the world when it comes to clean, efficient transportation.

Public Transit

I was in Paris last week and while there, quickly concluded that when it comes to public transit, I would rather live in Copenhagen. While it may be grossly unfair to compare public transit between a city of 2 million and one of 14 million, the extensity, modernity and cleanliness of the former is light years ahead of the latter. Copenhagen’s public transit system can be divided into four basic transportation modes; bus, water bus, metro and trains.

Bus: Copenhagen has one of the most modern bus fleets I have ever seen and support their Scandinavian cousin by sticking to Scandia or Volvos (Swedish). Bus routes are categorized depending on the frequency, speed and distance over which they operate. Red “A” buses operate at high frequency (4-6 minutes on average) until late evening/early morning. These differ from night buses and regular buses which are less frequent and/or operate on less populated routes. Blue “S” buses are reasonably frequent (every 10-15 minutes or so) and operate over long distances into the suburbs, including over weekends and evenings. In contrast, “E” buses (Express) run into the suburbs during rush hour and have much fewer stops than “S” buses.

High-frequency A-bus with cyclists


Long-distance S bus with cyclists

Water Bus: Given that Copenhagen is geographically divided by a harbor, the city also runs a water bus system which stops at major destinations on both sides of the harbor. This form of transit is particularly popular among tourists as it stops at a number of major tourist attractions including Nyhavn, The Black Diamond, The Little Mermaid and Operaen.

Water bus

Metro: The metro is a relatively new phenomenon in Copenhagen, with the first portion being opened in 2002. Actually, the word “Metro” (subway) is somewhat of a misnomer as the system is a hybrid Skyrail-Metro with 13 elevated and 9 underground stations. Even the word “system” is perhaps being overly generous as it currently consists of only 2 lines with these lines sharing stations over half their length to form of a “Y”. One of the two lines was extended to Kastrup Lufthavne in 2007, providing a convenient mode of transport to the airport. Service takes 14 minutes, meaning you can sleep in that much longer and still catch your early-morning flight!

Metro at one of the open-air stations

In 2005, the construction of a third “City Circle Line” was approved which will almost double the number of metro stations. The new line will be entirely underground and will link the districts of Østerbro, Norrebro and Vesterbro to the existing metro system beginning in 2018. Not suprisingly, the system is extremely modern and efficient, transporting over 50 million passengers per year. The most fascinating feature for most visitors is that trains are operated remotely. Yes, that is correct; there are no drivers. The entire system is operated from a central control room to ensure the system is functioning properly. Indeed, the most popular seats on the train are those situated where the driver’s compartment would normally be located, watching as Copenhagen races towards you.

Interior of Metro Cars

View from the front seats

The frequency of service is impressive with a headspace of 2-4 minutes between trains during the day. Service is 24/7 although at night headspace drops to 8-15 minutes over the weekend and from 10-20 minutes the rest of the week. And if your staying out that late, you might be better off catching a cab home…

Train: Then there are the trains… The train system can be subcategorized into suburban, regional and international service. The system is run by Danske Statsbaner (Danish State Railways), a for-profit state-owned organization more commonly referred to by its initials DSB.

Suburban: The backbone of Copenhagen’s transportation system is the S-tog (S-train) which services both urban and suburban areas. The system consists of 170 kilometers of track, comprising 6 lines and 85 stations at a frequency of 10-20 minutes during the day. Overnight service is usually only on the weekend and is every 30-60 minutes depending on the line.

S-tog Map

S-tog without graffiti

S-tog with graffiti

Interior of S-tog cars

Similar to the metro, many lines serve the same station and all but one line stop at the 7 primary stations in downtown Copenhagen. I must say I am continually amazed at the scheduling required to run 5 lines through such a bottleneck without experiencing delays. Headspace at these stations varies but is usually between 2-4 minutes. If things go wrong, the system get screwed up in a hurry. Thankfully, high taxes mean the city has some of the most modern rolling stock I have ever seen. That in turn limits the amount of mechanical or scheduling problems which frequently bedevil cities such as London and New York.

Regional: For travel outside of the greater Copenhagen area, DSB runs a comprehensive system of trains in all directions. Perhaps the most notable regional train (although it could also be considered international) is the Øresundtåg which services the Øresund region from Helsingør (50 kilometers north of Copenhagen) to Malmo, Sweden.

The Øresundtåg with service from Copenhagen to Malmo

Service to Sweden is across the impressive Øresundsbroen (Øresund bridge) which was opened in 2000 and links Denmark and Sweden. Similar to the Metro, the word “bridge” is somewhat of a misnomer as the fixed link comprises a 7.8 kilometer long bridge, a 4 kilometer artificial island and a 4 kilometer tunnel. The latter was necessary as a bridge would have interfered with the approach pattern of planes landing at nearby Kastrup as well as hinder the extensive shipping traffic servicing the Baltic Sea. Trains depart Copenhagen every 20 minutes and take 40 minutes to Malmo with the airport being the last stop before crossing to Sweden. Needless to say, the airport attracts significant traffic from southern Sweden as well as from greater Copenhagen.

The Øresund Fixed-Link looking towards Malmo, Sweden

Satellite view of the Øresund Fixed Link with Copenhagen on the upper left and Malmo on the right

Trains also depart from Copenhagen Central Station throughout the rest of the country with service throughout the island of Sjælland (Zealand) and onto the island of Fyn (Funen) and its primary city of Odense by way of the Storebæltsforbindelsen (Great Belt Fixed Link), another superstructure which was opened in 1997. It should be pointed out that both fixed-links came in on-schedule and on-budget and that the level of revenue generated from tolls has resulted in repayment of costs faster than expected rate, something Canada, the US and the rest of Europe would do well to try and emulate. From Fyn there is service on to Jylland (Jutland) and the cities of Billund, Arhus and points north, or south towards Germany.

The Great Belt Fixed Link linking the islands of Zealand and Funen

International: A much faster route to Germany is by way of the Inner City Express (ICE) to Hamburg with service on to Berlin. The ICE is Germany’s equivalent to the TGV, a rapid, high-speed train capable of travelling in excess of 300kph (180mph). My understanding is that the tracks do not allow such high speeds between Copenhagen and Hamburg. Furthermore, the train drives on to a ferry for part of the journey at which time the train staff switch from Danish to German personnel. Current travel time is 4.5 hours although there is serious discussion of building a fixed link between the island of Falster and Germany to increase transit time to Germany.

High-speed German ICE train


About Canadianindenmark

A Canadian expat working in the biotechnology industry in Copenhagen, Denmark
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2 Responses to Copenhagen Public Transit

  1. Nick says:

    I was just in Barcelona, Spain, area for a week. Very extensive and efficient transportation as well. The local and “international” trains look very similar. The train I was in made it up to 300km/h. Such a smooth ride that you wouldn’t know you’re going that fast. North America, especially Ottawa with its archeic bus monopoly, make for very sad comparisons.

  2. TinLizzie72 says:

    This is great, I wish I’d read it before I went to Copenhagen, not after I got back! Thanks for the clarification on the buses especially. I’ll need it for my next trip! : )

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