Denmark opens first high-speed rail line, but commuters must wait for faster journeys

A rail connection which will allow transport at up to 250 kilometres per hour between Copenhagen and Ringsted was opened on Friday.

Denmark opens first high-speed rail line, but commuters must wait for faster journeys
Photo: Martin Sylvest / Ritzau Scanpix

Crown Prince Frederik was guest of honour as the new high-speed rail track was opened by national rail infrastructure company Banedanmark.

The new line, named Ringstedbanen (the Ringsted Line) connects Ny Ellebjerg in Copenhagen to Ringsted via a new station at Køge North, bypassing the normal route through Høje-Taastrup.

The track has been built to enable high-speed trains which can travel at up to 250 kilometres per hour, although such trains will not be used on the line initially, with operator DSB instead using existing trains at increased speeds.

High-speed rail (HSR) will be possible on the new line in future, however.

Those hoping for expedited commuting times should probably hold off before getting on board with any excitement, as peak travel times between Ringsted and Copenhagen will initially remain unchanged.

But a new timetable to be introduced in December this year will see trains travelling at higher speeds on the line, cutting the journey by five minutes. Journey times between Copenhagen and Næstved will be shortened by up to nine minutes.

The main benefit of the new line will be a reduction in delays, Banedanmark director Per Jacobsen said.

“This will make the railway to and from Copenhagen more efficient and robust. The new track will help us improve the timetable, increase departures and reduce delays,” Jacobsen said in a press statement.

The speed limit on railways in Denmark is normally 180 kilometres per hour.

The new railway was approved by parliament in 2009 and construction of the track and new station began in 2010. Total costs for the project are over nine billion kroner.

READ ALSO: 'Help make us greener': Danish rail operator to passengers

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SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever

The French state-funded rail operator SNCF is set to lose a regional rail service for the first time as officials in southeast France vote to award a 10-year contract to a rival operator.

SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever
Photo by Bertrand Langlois / AFP

Officials in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur appear set to award the regional rail service between Marseille and Nice to the Transdev transport group for 10 years when the tender goes to its final vote on October 29th.

If the vote goes as planned, it will be the first internal regional rail service in France that will not be operated by SNCF. 

“SNCF Voyageurs [which includes TGV, TER, Intercités and Transilien] wishes Transdev every success, in the interest of passengers and the development of rail transport in the region,” SNCF said in a press release, acknowledging the impending loss of the contract.

“This choice marks (…) the concretisation of the opening to competition for which we have been preparing for a long time, where our organising authorities have the freedom to choose other operators than us,” Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, said in the statement.

Three companies were in the running for the €870 million 10-year deal: SNCF, private French transport group Transdev, and Thello, a subsidiary of the Italian public railway company Trenitalia.

Transdev – which already operates successful bus, coach and rail operations – has promised that regional rail traffic on the Marseille-Nice line will double from seven daily services to 14 by 2025.

While the symbolic loss of its first regional rail service will hurt SNCF, it can console itself with reports that it looks set to retain other lines in the region, including links between Les Arcs-Draguignan and Ventimiglia (Italy), as well as Nice-Tende and Cannes-Grasse. The 10-year deal for those services – for which it was the only bidder – is worth €1.5 billion.

Elected officials in the Grand-Est, Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France and Pays de la Loire are taking a keen interest in the tender process in PACA, having already announced that they would consider opening up bids for TER services to rival operators.

TER routes are France’s local trains, running slower services to small towns, in contrast to the high-speed TGV network which links up the cities.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

“It’s historic in the railway world, it’s the first time that a line of this importance will be granted to another operator than the SNCF,” Alpes-Maritimes senator Philippe Tabarot, and former vice-president in charge of transport in the PACA region, told AFP.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is as excited at the prospect. “We are not surprised, because it shows the willingness of the region to create competition in the most profitable markets,” said Jean-Marie Valencia, head of communications for rail union CGT-Cheminots PACA. “We are concerned, because it will not be without cost to the railway workers.”

Didier Mathis, secretary general of union UNSA-Ferroviaire, added: “We are saddened by this decision, because it will lead to the transfer of 166 agents [from SNCF to Transdev]. 

“This decision is not at all a surprise, because the Southern Region would have been embarrassed if it had chosen SNCF twice in the two tenders, even though it said it was dissatisfied with SNCF. The region would have lost all credibility.”