How Denmark’s ‘America-style’ Metro got built

In September, Copenhagen will celebrate a significant milestone in its railway system: the opening of the “America-style” metro, opened in September of 2013, on time and on budget, as Denmark’s first monorail. At the…

How Denmark’s ‘America-style’ Metro got built

In September, Copenhagen will celebrate a significant milestone in its railway system: the opening of the “America-style” metro, opened in September of 2013, on time and on budget, as Denmark’s first monorail.

At the time, then-Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Copenhagen’s metro manager Lars Rinke said that they intended the system to be a “modern, flexible and efficient metro which could be greatly improved, or upgraded, using high-tech alternatives” that could work on a “less or no-barrier to entry (including cross-heights), compared to the Metro, making us as a city a convenient transportation hub for the wide area around us.”

For the most part, this was exactly what the metro ended up doing. The four-track extension to the existing metro train line was simply redesigned, to make it as sleek as possible. Instead of a 4.5-mile elevated system, this light rail, with stations placed within a 20-minute walk of almost any downtown site, has an elevated passenger train over the tracks that only moves in either direction — making it the equivalent of only five miles, instead of the 12 in an average metro line. When opened in January 2014, it cost $500 million, of which almost all came from the Danish government. By comparison, the Washington Metro today costs an estimated $7 billion.

It has its critics, though. There are fears that the trains will still have to work through the tunnels. Protests in the city occurred every few days as the metro opened. Some opposed the line, deeming it dangerous to rush-hour traffic at highway crossings, and it only drew support from one of the city’s three political parties, the Pirate Party.

Danette Bohla, of the Denmark Cycling Federation, asked, “Is it really necessary to have this bus-sized metro? Is that really the best solution?”

In fact, there are many other people opposed to it.

In 2017, an initiative was proposed that would have relocated the metro from the east side of the city, north of the Christiania (a large community on the city’s left bank, in which former residents of what is now downtown use state-funded housing to live off the grid). As planned, the new metro would be the same length as the existing west metro line, which runs along the waterfront, parallel to the Maesøen (a small peninsula south of the city).

However, this plan failed to pass, as it was opposed by members of the government, and some notable Danish citizens called the road-razed section dangerous — among them, TV presenter Claus Olte Jensen, who said: “The thing is, the rail was built 40 years ago in order to increase mobility. Now we have e-mobility, and we want to increase that mobility. However, that requires the train, in order to transport the people. And I think the only thing we can do about it is that we must end the line. That’s why I am so against the whole thing.”

There was also this sentiment expressed by 21-year-old Sebastian Groggs — who has since died: “With all due respect to how it may look, I do not understand why we have to build an extra line in a place where there are already a lot of options — why not put it on a different area of the city where people need it, where we have more needs for transportation?”

Despite the stalled effort, the government is still going ahead with it.

“These years and this piece of real estate have been accumulated and are not going anywhere anytime soon,” Koen Volrgaard, the Copenhagen’s mayor of transportation infrastructure, said at a 2017 event. “Metro America is probably the best thing to have happened in the city for many years.”

Leave a Comment