Suburban saviour - Light rail to plug gap in Copenhagen network
SPREADING out like fingers from the palm of the hand, Copenhagen’s S-Bane network is the backbone of the city’s public transport system, providing key connectivity for 360,000 daily passengers travelling to and from the suburbs and the city centre.
The Danish capital’s metro network, which is currently undergoing a significant expansion with the addition of the 15km Cityring and 3km Nordhavn and 4.5km Sydhavn projects, is improving rail connectivity in the city centre. But travelling between outlying suburbs by rail remains a challenge. Buses provide good connectivity, but the automobile remains the dominant mode, a growing concern in increasingly car-conscious Copenhagen.
The line itself will run in a separate alignment from the existing road apart from at intersections and will interchange with six S-Bane lines, and one regional line, with major transport hubs planned at current S-Bane stations at Lyngby, Buddinge, Herlev, Glostrup, Vallensbæk, and Ishøj. The line will also serve Glostrup and Herlev hospitals, retail and office developments, and the Technical University of Denmark north of Lyngby. Around 13-14 million passengers per year are forecast to use the new line, which when it opens in 2024 will serve 29 stations and operate at five-minute intervals on weekdays and at 10-minute intervals on evenings and weekends. A complete journey along the entire route is expected to take 57-58 minutes.
The long-discussed project - prequalification took place in December 2015 - took a major step forward on March 14 with the official signing of the five civil works contracts and three packages covering equipment, operation and maintenance.
Hovedstadens Letbane, the public company owned by the 11 municipalities and tasked with overseeing the project, announced the preferred bidders on January 11. Danish construction companies MJ Erikkson, Per Aarsleff and CG Jensen will deliver the civil works contracts, which are divided by municipality and encompass roadworks, bridges, the subgrade for the light rail alignment, and drainage. The latter contractor was also chosen to build the line’s operational control and maintenance centre.
A consortium of Siemens and Aarsleff Rail, Denmark, will deliver the transport systems component, which encompasses railway infrastructure and rolling stock. Siemens is also providing 27 low-floor Avenio LRVs while the 15-year operation and maintenance contract was awarded to Metro Service, the existing operator of the city’s metro network.
According to Mr Patrik Magnusson, project director for the light rail project at Copenhagen metro authority, Metroselskabet, the quality of competition for the contracts was very good. However, while three bidders came forward for the operation and maintenance contract, he reports that the number of bidders for the civil works contracts was less than might have been expected due to limited capacity in the Danish market.
“The market is quite stretched at the moment and there is high demand for civil works companies, in particular they are building a lot of houses,” Magnusson says. “There will be foreign workers here because there are not enough workers in Denmark. But as we have seen from the contract awards, most of the workers will be employed by Danish companies.”
Contract signing has also been held up by changes to the project’s governing structure. Rather than withdrawal from the project at the expected completion date in 2024 as initially planned, the Danish state announced in January, like it had in Aarhus, that it would end its involvement immediately.
This has meant that the statutes for the project had to be rewritten to reflect the changes, delaying the final contract signing. Magnusson says this has had no impact on funding, with the municipalities only liable to pay more if there are delays or cost overruns. “The risk is on the municipalities,” Magnusson says. “It is not a major change.”
Following the contract signing, detailed design work is now underway in preparation for the start of civil works in summer 2019. Magnusson says utility relocation will take place ahead of this start date with a significant amount of alterations to various cables and pipes expected. And while he says this is a relatively tight timetable, it is realistic.
“In Denmark when utility companies have a cable in the road it is normally based on the so-called guest principle,” Magnusson says. “The utility owners are in the road for free, but if the design of the road is changed, they have to pay for the removal. When the civil works contractors start, it is not on the entire stretch of the line, so of course some coordination between the different parties will take place. The utility owners go before the civil works contractor and sometimes there can be an advantage if their work is well coordinated.”
Magnusson adds that as a technical undertaking, the project is relatively straightforward with very few expected challenges.
Perhaps the most difficult is a short tunnel beneath the S-Bane line at Lyngby station, where the line narrows slightly. Similarly, the station at Glostrup will require significant work. As the largest interchange on the line, LRVs will stop at dead-end platforms located beside the current station and 300-400m from the ring road and accessible via a steep ramp. Drivers will be required to reverse out of the station to continue the journey, walking to the other end of the vehicle during the estimated two-minute stop.
The line will also cross the new Copenhagen - Ringsted line and work on this bridge will commence this summer. Demolition of several buildings will be required in order to complete construction during the test phase of the new line before it opens in December. Preparatory work will similarly begin for the line’s operation and maintenance centre at Islevbro this autumn where the LRVs will be stabled overnight.
“The contractors will begin to cut down trees in the autumn - this is the only time we are allowed to do it because of bats,” Magnusson says.
Other than this, the major challenge is coordinating works on the light rail project with existing road traffic and managing disruption to residents and businesses located along the route. An estimated 30,000 cars use the Ring 3 every day, while another 300,000 interchange with the route. “Traffic management is the key to this project,” Magnusson says.
Of course, as Copenhagen’s first light rail line, significant preparation work has taken place within the company to prepare for the new mode of transport. While it was required to establish Hovedstadens Letbane for the light rail initiative due to the varying ownership from the existing transport authority, the company is staffed by Metroselskabet employees, who are benefitting from the organisation’s extensive experience.
Staff have also consulted with the teams behind other Danish light rail projects in Aarhus and Odense, and looked further afield at more mature networks, including Manchester (p28), and Blackpool.
“One major lesson from Aarhus is with safety approvals, where they had some challenges getting approvals from the authorities and we found that you have to have a good cooperation with the authorities from the start,” Magnusson says. “How they are handling traffic is also important.”
Once the line is completed, there are strong expectations that the project will have a significant impact on the region. Magnusson says a lot of calculations have been made and current estimates are that 36,000 new workplaces will be created and 32,000 new residents will live along the corridor after the line is operational, and the service matures.
He adds that the company has an option with Siemens for three extra LRVs, which it expects to activate if demand warrants a greater service frequency.
“If we see that the run-time is challenged we can order one, two or three extra trains,” Magnusson says.
The new line will go a long way to plugging a significant gap in the Copenhagen transport network. And alongside investments in the metro network as well as main line electrification and resignalling, and S-Bane improvements, this project is further evidence of the faith, and considerable capital, the Danish state is placing in rail to deliver its transport network of tomorrow.