Management & Operations

Copenhagen's Metro: The City's Horizontal Elevator

Posted on February 15, 2007 by Leslie Davis

In a vibrant city known for its hygge (“coziness”), Copenhagen’s Metro aims to make its passengers feel welcome. Instead of using armed security personnel to patrol its trains and stations, the Metro employs unarmed stewards who attend to the passengers. The stewards check tickets, provide travel information, monitor the Metro and assist passengers.

Opting for a driverless system, the Metro has put its manpower into its nearly 100 stewards. “We didn’t want drivers sitting in the front doing nothing, so we instead decided to provide service to passengers,” says Torben Johansen, technical director of Ørestadsselskabet, the organization that built and owns the Metro.

The system is highly efficient, with a more than 99% on-time departure rate. In 2006, it carried 37 million passengers. It expects that number to rise to 43 million this year, with the opening of the third phase of the system in October.

The Metro’s creation
For many years, Copenhagen politicians discussed the possibility of a transportation system in the city to supplement privately operated buses and the S-Train (operated by the Danish State Railway). While widely used, neither of those systems provided service to Amager, the island to the east of Copenhagen on which the city’s airport is located.

In 1992, with the development of a new district on Amager called Ørestad, the Law of Ørestad was enacted, mandating the creation of a new transportation system. The law required that the system be financed by selling land in Ørestad, meaning the Metro was financed strictly on loans. About $2 billion (in 2002 dollars) was borrowed from the Municipality of Copenhagen (55%) and the Government of Denmark (45%) for the first three phases of the Metro. The loans are expected to be repaid by 2038.

The land in Ørestad is owned by Ørestadsselskabet. Money to repay the loans is earned through operating revenue and selling buildable land by the square meter. Nearly 50% of Ørestad’s 3.1 million square meters have been sold to date, and 80% is expected to be sold by 2032, according to Johansen.

While several options were considered for the creation of the new system, it was ultimately decided that a system built on rails would be constructed. The system would be lighter than the S-Train and operated both in tunnels and mixed traffic. Construction of the Metro was divided into four phases. The first phase was completed in 2002, and the third phase, extending the Metro to Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport, is expected to open this October. Once the initial three phases are complete, there will be 22 stations (nine underground and 13 above-ground) and 34 trainsets of three cars each.

The fourth phase, which will be a circular around the city, was expected to be presented to Parliament at the end of January. This final phase, expected to be completed by 2018, will add 17 more stations and 9 miles of track within the city.

The Law of Ørestad also mandated that the Metro use the same ticketing system that the buses and S-Train use, giving passengers seamless access to all three modes of transportation.

Ticket prices are determined based on zones, of which there are seven spanning 31 miles north, 25 miles south and about 22 miles west from the city center. Each transportation system’s portion of the ticket income is determined annually by calculating the number of passengers in each zone for each mode.

“It’s a fight every year,” Johansen claims. “But we’re the only one who knows how many passengers we have because we have a system that counts them.”

The Copenhagen Metro is operated by Metro Service, which is owned by British company Serco. The Metro comprises two lines that follow the same stretch in the city center and then split into a western and eastern line on Amager. The two lines have a total of 17 stations and a total length of about 13 miles.

A driverless system
Copenhagen’s Metro is completely driverless, operated through an automated train control (ATC) system controlled from the control and maintenance center at Ørestad. “We didn’t want to be dependent on drivers in the system since there would be a higher risk of problems running the Metro, and it’s cheaper,” Johansen says. “We can easily put one more train on the system.”

To ensure trains run without problems, there are extra computers onboard in case they break down. Trains can also be controlled manually from the control center if necessary.

The ATC system is made up of the automatic train protection (ATP), automatic train operation and automatic train supervisory systems. While all three are necessary for the operation of the train, the ATP is the only subsystem critical to the safety of the Metro and must be guaranteed never to fail. The ATP provides a range of functions to protect passengers, staff and equipment from accidents, including preventing excess speeds and making sure the doors are closed before departure. It also ensures that when a train enters a track, no other train can enter the same section.

The automatic train operation system is the autopilot for the Metro, performing the programmed station stops, opening and closing doors, starting the train and verifying that stopping signs are observed. The automatic train supervisory system monitors the status of all subsystems and trains in operation. All of this is controlled from the control center, which is staffed by four to five supervisors 24-hours-a-day.

Efficiency in staffing
The Metro has about 400 employees, including control staff, stewards and maintenance crew. Ørestadsselskabet contracted with Italian company Ansaldo Transporti to not only build the trains, but to do everything from operation to maintenance. Ansaldo was given the Metro’s initial five-year operating contract, which was extended by three years to run through 2010. With no other extension in the contract, a new tender will be made prior to the expiration of Ansaldo’s contract.

The Metro runs from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and is open 24 hours Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The system is not currently open 24 hours each day because there are too few passengers.

With the opening of phase III, 2008 ridership on the Metro is estimated at 49 million passengers. That number is slightly lower than that projected during creation of the Metro, which was about 70 million annual passengers by 2010. This is partially due to the price of tickets increasing faster than expected. “Prices have been raised very much since 2003,” Johansen says. “They’ve risen much faster than the price for driving a private car.” Many of the bus routes still run parallel to the Metro, also affecting ridership.

Anxiety curtails ridership
While locals are aware of the Metro, not all are willing to give it a try. “A high majority of passengers are very happy about it,” Johansen says. “The majority who have never been on it don’t like it and think it’s unsafe.” Johansen recognizes that having people take their first trip can be difficult, and the Metro tries to make it easier by offering free or discount rides in conjunction with concerts and malls.

Some people are concerned with the fact that that Metro is driverless, to which Johansen responds that it’s just like an elevator without an operator. That, he says, has been effective in making some view the system differently.

The Copenhagen Metro is a very safe system, having had no operating accidents thus far and minimal harassment of the stewards. There have been a few accidents on station escalators, but that was to be expected, Johansen says. To minimize these accidents, stationary handrails were added above the moving escalator handrails.

There are three cameras in each trainset (one in each car), as well as cameras in stations that allow the control room to see every corner of the platform, escalators, stairs and concourse. The control room has 20 screens to monitor the system.

Although passengers essentially ride the Metro based on the honor system since tickets are seldom checked onboard, fewer than 2% of the passengers are free riders. “If they don’t have any money, we can’t do anything about it. We ask them to leave the train and give them a ticket,” Johansen says. The fine for riding without a ticket is about $87.

With the cost of one ride equaling about $3, the majority of riders opt for a monthly pass, which starts at about $53 for unlimited rides on any transport within zones 1 and 2.

Distinctive modern design
The Metro’s stations and trains have a distinctive modern design that’s consistent throughout the system. “In general, people should be able to recognize the system and feel comfortable when entering the system,” Johansen says. “Once they are inside, it’s all the same.”

The stations were constructed as “daylight stations,” which means reflectors on top of the stations reflect daylight, even when there is no sun, providing a light source into the underground stations. Atop all but one station are glass pyramids, which were constructed both to keep people from falling into the station and to create small prisms in the station when there is daylight.

Each of the nine tunnel stations has a column at street level indicating the station entrance. An electronic display indicates if there is a train delay before passengers descend to the platform. Each station has glass elevators and four escalators, two in each direction. The train is separated from the platform by a glass wall; the train and platform doors open simultaneously to allow passengers on and off the train. It also provides protection against passengers falling or jumping onto the track. The stations have minimal furnishings (no benches or trashcans) because the train intervals are so brief that waiting is limited. During rush hours, trains come every 110 seconds; trains operating late at night come every 15 minutes. The average trip time per passenger is four to five minutes.

The trains were designed by Italian designer Giugiaro Design and submitted by Ansaldo. Each of the 34 trainsets holds 300 people (96 seated and 204 standing), equal to about five city buses. The average speed of the trains is 25 mph, with a top speed of 50 mph.

Both the stations and trains were designed to be handicap-accessible, complete with audio announcements, no chair legs to leave room for guide dogs and folding seats that accommodate wheelchairs.

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