Tubular Belle (Køge Nord station, Køge, Denmark)

Stuck on the E20 motorway heading for Copenhagen? Køge Nord station very much hopes you are.

Køge Nord is a station on a mission. That mission is to convince you, by way of sheer architectural presence, that you shouldn’t be driving into Copenhagen on the E20 at all but instead should be park and riding, letting the train take the strain. It is one of those happy few park and ride / parkway (choose your preferred nomenclature) stations which has genuine architectural merit. If you’re stuck in traffic in a car, then as far as Køge Nord is concerned so much the better, because you then have even longer to admire the station’s design and regret your poor choice of travel mode.

↑  Køge Nord station’s footbridge, western end. Photo by News Oresund, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Køge Nord is a station which is very much up in the air. Its main focus is a 225 metre-long tubular footbridge which describes a lazy ‘S’ as it connects a set of intercity platforms on the west side of the E20 to a set of S-train regional platforms on the east, across the E20 motorway which divides the two parts of the station.

Over the last few years I have become more fascinated than I ought to be with railway station footbridge designs, a particularly niche interest which began with Network Rail/Design Council’s Footbridge Design Ideas Competition of 2018. I had given little thought to the appearance or function of railway footbridges before then, but that competition produced over 100 interesting designs for railway footbridges of the future. Almost all of them would be an improvement over the typical engineering-led examples installed through initiatives like the Access for All scheme. The competition resulted in designs which were added to Network Rail’s recent suite of improved station footbridge designs which was being developed at the same time. The first example of a footbridge from that portfolio – the ‘Ribbon’ design – was recently built at Reston station on the Scottish borders, which opened to passengers in May this year.

Some of the proposals entered into the Footbridge Design Ideas Competition seemed far too abstract to be readily practical propositions on a real life railway network. There were footbridges with massive picture windows at each end, footbridges which were giant tubes, footbridges which stood on piers apparently too thin to support the weight of an actual footbridge, footbridges completely lined internally with wooden slatting, footbridges with ribbon glazing, footbridges with glass balustrades on their stairways, and footbridges with integrated internal benches in abstract shapes.

So you can imagine my surprise to find that Køge Nord station, which opened in 2019, has a footbridge which includes all of those things in real life.

↑  Køge Nord station, seen from the west. Photo by News Oresund, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From the E20, drivers can see the dramatic aluminium-clad tube of the footbridge crossing overhead. Danish architecture practice COBE, responsible for the station’s design, appears to have taken on board a lesson from American and European motorway service stations of the late 1950s in which dramatic buildings positioned as bridges over the roadways acted as an advertisement to passing drivers, the smartness of the architecture suggesting the quality of facilities within.

Although the regional platforms at Køge Nord are hidden from the motorway by acoustic screening, the intercity platforms can be seen easily. Thus the footbridge and these platforms act as an effective advert for the rail-based park and ride. The centre of Copehagen is 25 miles / 40km away but express trains make the journey in 20 minutes.

With 100,000 cars passing Køge Nord station each day, and frequent traffic jams, COBE estimates that 40,000 hours are wasted by people stuck in traffic on the E20. Diverting to the car parks at Køge Nord and taking the train to Copenhagen makes sense. If the forecast 2,000 cars a day use the station as a park and ride facility COBE estimates that 80,000 traffic km will be saved along with 8,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. If 100,0000 cars pass Køge Nord each day, I have to say I’m surprised that the station is targeting a modal shift of just 2,000 car journeys onto the train rather than a more ambitious figure.

From the station’s platforms and the forecourts, slender combined stairway/escalators run up to the footbridge. With glass balustrades and a clever tapering profile at the top, these appear to float almost weightlessly, untethered to the footbridge’s main span. As well as stairs and escalators, the footbridge is served by lifts which are located directly underneath the footbridge’s main span rather than off to one side as is the more usual practice. The lift towers are made of glass, ensuring they do not detract from the surprisingly delicate appearance of the footbridge’s supports. They are integrated with the concrete piers supporting the footbridge, reducing visual clutter. The footbridge’s largest unsupported span is 58m, but the installation of two tuned mass dampers ensures the bridge feels solid for its users.

↑  Køge Nord station, platforms. Photo by News Oresund, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Passenger facilities within the station at platform level are fairly spartan, with small shelters on the platforms about the only concession to comfort. Instead it is the footbridge that provides the waiting areas for passengers. From here, passengers can enjoy panoramic views from the continuous run of glazing on the north side of the bridge. The south side omits this in order to avoid overheating from solar gain, with smaller windows used instead. Comfort is enhanced by fresh air circulation systems built into the footbridge.

Slatted oak lines the nine metre-wide interior of the footbridge and softens its appearance. It also contains sensitively installed recessed lighting. Seating takes the form of curving integrated benches finished in the same wood which appear to flow out from the interior lining of the footbridge.

↑  Footbridge interior, Køge Nord. Ribbon glazing on the right, smaller windows on the left. Note also the bench and recessed lighting. Photo by Necessary Evil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If the view from the north side of the footbridge ever palls, there are huge oval picture windows at each end of the footbridge, served by terraced seating, allowing passengers to look out over the forecourts at each side of the station and across to the station’s wider environs.

↑ Looking out of Køge Nord footbridge’s western end window. Photo by Necessary Evil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The car parks provided at each side of Køge Nord cover a combined area of 32,000 square metres, but both sides of the station are also served by bus services and cycle routes. A mix of uncovered and sheltered cycle parking is provided.

Køge Nord is on the western edge of Ølsemagle Strand and the station’s east-side S-train platforms are situated on a pre-existing railway line, and serve the adjacent residential area with access by an impressively direct cycle route as well as a road. These platforms at least approximate the feeling of a typical railway station, despite their additional park and ride role. The intercity platforms on the west side of the station were built on a brand new stretch of high speed line and have much more the feel of a typical park and ride/parkway station, in that they feel like they are nowhere particular. The motorway is on one side, and on the other there is – beyond the bus station, bike parking and car parks – not very much at all.

According to COBE, the surrounding area is undergoing “a tremendous transformation” so perhaps the station will one day feel more like a typical station than a park and ride location. In the meantime, as COBE notes, “The bridge is also a new architectural attraction for the area; a long, spectacular steel snake sinuously extending above the railway lines and offering the users a mag­nificent panoramic view of the cultural landscape.”

If you are a British reader of any degree of cynicism at all you might at this point be tempted to suggest that it is a pity British parkway railway stations cannot aspire to similar lofty aspirations. Perhaps you have in mind the artist’s impressions of the still under construction Thanet Parkway. But before you make that suggestion, I have news.

Next time, The Beauty of Transport is travelling to south Wales. ■

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BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING

COBE’s project page for Køge Nord

Bridge Design and Engineering news story on the opening of Køge Nord

DSB’s station information page for Køge Nord

…and everything else linked to in the text of the article

3 thoughts on “Tubular Belle (Køge Nord station, Køge, Denmark)

  1. Great article about an interesting building. I was recently in Denmark and Copenhagen Central station blew me away, looked like a medieval banqueting hall.

    Thanet Parkway will be bland, but I guess that’s mainly about utilising the existing subway, keeping down costs and not upsetting the natives.

    BTW, I think there’s a useful distinction between Parkway and Park & Ride stations. The former are used as railheads for people making long journeys by train, and are generally A Good Thing as they should encourage more public transport use. A P&R is for car drivers to do the last mile by public transport, and while they should reduce congestion in the city centres, they do encourage existing public transport users to switch to car for most of the journey.

  2. Is Køge a P&R, or an “out of town” intercity pick up point much like Stevenage?
    In was in Denmark Last week, but my train to Odense went firmly by the old line via Roskilde. So no Tubular Bells for me, just a mandolin.

  3. This is an interesting building but seems to be a maintenance nightmare however, I do think that park and ride is the right ‘next step ‘for commuter travel going forward

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