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Light rail in Denmark

With utilities work already largely complete, works will begin to create space for the future light rail alignment on Middelfartvej in Odense in February 2018. As with other Scandinavian projects, extensive use of green track will be used. Image credit: Odense Letbane

Denmark has a rich tramway history. Its capital opened one of the earliest horse-drawn passenger services in Europe in 1863, passing through phases of steam power and onboard battery operation before overhead electrification just before the turn of the 20th Century.

The mode was never widely spread across the nation however, with city tramway operation only developed in Aarhus, Odense and Copenhagen (as well an unusual 750mm-gauge service on the island of Rømø).

Mirroring the familiar tale worldwide, the increased cost of maintenance fought against the competition from other modes and the growth of the private automobile; Denmark’s final passenger tram ran in Copenhagen on 23 April 1972, with its rolling stock sold to Alexandria in Egypt. A handful of these cars were repatriated for preservation in 2001.

Examples of the country’s city tramcars can be found at the Sporvejsmuseet Skjoldenæsholm museum around 65km (40 miles) south-west of the capital.

Another important factor which makes trams an ideal transport solution for Danish cities is their generally moderate size. Copenhagen, the capital, is the exception, and here the Ring 3 LRT line will encourage development and inward investment in the municipalities investing in the scheme, forming a key part of the overall regional development plan.

The city of Aarhus may be the location of the first modern tramway in Denmark, but more are to follow. As the pathfinder for the mode, many lessons are being learnt and there is a great deal of collaboration and sharing of experience. Because street-running light rail is, in effect, a brand new mode to the country, one of the biggest challenges surrounds regulations and standards: they need to be written. A joint group of clients, representing all the municipalities looking at light rail, is creating a framework based around the German BOStrab regulations, adapted to take into account local factors.


Odense’s modern tramway project began construction in 2015. A 14.4km (nine-mile) line is being built, from Tarup in the north-west through the city centre to Hjallese Station in the south. It will also connect the city’s main railway station, the University of Southern Denmark and its large university hospital.

A contract for 16 Variobahn trams of a similar specification to those in Aarhus was awarded to Stadler in 2016; the first batch will be delivered in autumn 2019 under the EUR45m contract, with work on schedule to open the line to passengers in late 2020.

SYSTRA and COWI are acting as principal consultants for system design, procurement and commissioning. By the start of 2018 relocation of most under-street utilities was completed, and the construction of new roads, pavements and bicycle lanes begun along the route, with the exception of a short inner city section. This will be started in spring.

Mogens Hagelskær, CEO of Odense Letbane, told TAUT: “This is a major phase shift for the project. Until recently Odense Letbane has foremost been co-ordinating the utilities project and handling procurement process. Now we are stepping up as a construction enterprise, with all the obligations, tasks and challenges that come with this. The organisation has adapted to this situation by upgrading its focus on overseeing the contractors in respect to the contracts, security issues at construction sites and not least the informational obligations to our neighbours disturbed by the project.

“At the same time, an intense design process is taking place in co-operation with our suppliers. Spanish contractor Comsa has been chosen to build the tracks, stations and technical elements of the system, and Swiss manufacturer Stadler is delivering the vehicles that will operate the line.

“The track works will start by mid-2018 and will last until mid-2020. Even though the trackworks have not been seen in the city of Odense in many years, the construction work and the traffic regulations will be handled the same way as during the utilities programme and the road works to make the work as tolerable and predictable as possible. This is possible due to close co-operation with the local road authorities.”

As well as installing the tracks, Comsa is also responsible for the Control and Maintenance Centre, located next to a park-and-ride site with around 600 spaces that offers easy access to the E20 motorway.

When the tracks are laid and electrification is complete, the incoming operator will take care of the test and trial phase, securing the necessary permissions to begin operations. Five companies have prequalified for the operations and maintenance of the new line, all with extensive light rail experience: Arriva Danmark (operator of buses in Jutland and rail lines in Stockholm through Arriva Sverige); Keolis Danmak (operator of the Aarhus LRT network); Metro Service (operator of the Copenhagen metro); Odense Lightrail Service (a partnership of Swedish bus operator Umove and Transdev Sverige, operator of the Norrköping tramway and bus services across the country); Stockholms Spårvägar (operator of the Djurgårdslinjen and Lidingöbanan tramlines in Stockholm).

An appointment is expected by the end of the year for the ten-year contract with an option for a further five years.

The tramway will run for 20 hours each day – 05.00-01.00 – with up to eight services per hour in each direction. Ridership is predicted at 13m passengers per year and
the project has a cost of approximately DKK3.1bn (EUR415m).

Further phases include branches from Vollsmose via Vesterbro, connecting to the first phase at Rosengardcentret; and from Odense Zoo to the city centre stop.

Copenhagen Ring 3

Moving back to the capital, a framework agreement for the development of an express tramline paralleling the busy Ring 3 road to link eight outlying municipalities in the west was signed in June 2011.

Following the discounting of a cheaper Bus Rapid Transit option, the LRT project will see top speeds of up to 70km/h (43.5mph) along a 28km (17.4-mile) route with 29 stops placed around 1km apart between Lundtofte in the north and Ishøj station in the south.

Mainly segregated from the main road, it is hoped that average service speeds can reach 30km/h (19mph), with the full route covered in 58 minutes. Featuring minimal street-running, planned headways are five minutes on weekdays and ten minutes at other times.

The project is supported by 11 municipalities and is seen as vital in catering for future growth of the city region, offering links to the existing radial S-bane network (at Lyngby, Buddinge, Herlev, Glostrup, Vallensbæk and Ishøj), two hospitals and the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby. The line is expected to support the creation of up to 36 500 new jobs in areas around the new stops by 2035, as part of planned development investment of DKK32bn (EUR4.3bn).

Hovedstadens Letbane, the public company overseeing the project, announced preferred bidders for seven work packages on 11 January 2018 to build, equip, operate and maintain the line. These contracts must now be approved by the Danish Government and the eight municipalities along the route which own Hovedstadens Letbane.

The project’s earlier phases were managed by metro authority Metroselskabet – Hovedstadens Letbane and Metroselskabet share a CEO and offices in central Copenhagen – a partnership owned by the City of Copenhagen (50%), the Danish Government (41.7 %) and the City of Frederiksberg (8.3%).

Metroselskabet appointed a joint venture of Arup and Rambøll to design the line; Cowi is acting architectural consultant and is providing traffic and construction planning services for the project.

Preparatory works for the dual-track line are expected to start in 2018 with contracts for construction and rolling stock expected later in the year.

On what is the biggest light rail project in Denmark, procurement has been divided into eight packages, five covering civil works, and three covering equipment, operation and maintenance. Danish construction firms MJ Erikkson, Per Aarsleff and CG Jensen have been selected for the civils packages, with CG Jensen also chosen to build the Control and Maintenance Centre.

Railway infrastructure and rolling stock will be handled by a consortium of Siemens and Aarsleff Rail, with the former supplying a fleet of 27 low-floor 35m LRVs for the line, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

The 15-year operations and maintenance contract is to be undertaken by Metro
Service, a joint venture of Milan’s publicly-owned transport operator ATM and
Ansaldo STS that currently operates the capital’s metro network.

Predicted ridership is 13-14m passengers per day for the DKK6.2bn (EUR833m) project.

The other planned Danish LRT project was a proposed scheme for the northern city of Aalborg. Initial investigations for a link between the city centre, the University and the future University Hospital eventually settled on a bus rapid transit option.

Find out more

Odense Letbane: Hovedstadens Letbane:

Article originally appeared in March 2018 TAUT (963).