Sweden: Gothenburg - Umeå by SJ night train 92

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by jamesontheroad, Dec 2, 2018.

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  1. Dec 2, 2018 #1

    jamesontheroad

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    jamesontheroad

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    I had to make a quick trip from the UK to northern Sweden last month. My destination was Umeå, in Västerbotten, which is Sweden's "mid-north." In current tourism material for the city, a cartoon character is overlaid on a map of Sweden to emphasise that Umeå is roughly where the 'heart' of Sweden is, so it's still a long way from the northernmost point of the country. That said, it's the northernmost point I've ever been in my travels - 63º 49' N - so it was quite an intriguing prospect.

    Given work and family commitments before and after the trip, I had to use KLM from my local airport (KLM provide feeder service from 14 UK airports to the KLM / Delta / Air France hub in Amsterdam Schiphol). However, KLM only serves a few airports in southern Sweden. Umeå Airport's only international carriers are SAS and Norwegian (through Stockholm Arlanda) and Finnair (through Helsinki). What turned out to be the best option in turns of timing was to fly through Amsterdam to Gothenburg, in Västra Götaland County in the south-west of the country before continuing overnight by train.

    KLM delivered me to Gothenburg with all the usual efficiency and punctuality. What was remarkable for me was that this was the first trip I've ever completed end-to-end using digital boarding passes in the iOS Wallet. Swedes are far more receptive to this technology than I've found elsewhere. One of my contacts in Umeå explained that this was because Swedes absolutely hate making small talk with strangers, so they embrace anything that lets them board a bus, train or plane without talking to someone else. :D

    IMG_5303.jpg    IMG_5301.jpg    IMG_5302.jpg

    Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, with a metro population of more than a million people. I arrived mid-afternoon in late-November, and the sun was already getting low in the sky. About a month until the winter soltice, the sun had risen at 08:18 and would set 15:39.

    Flygbussarna provides a regular shuttle from the airport to the city, which dropped me off outside Gothenburg Central Station. The return trip departs from the Nils Ericson bus terminal, which is adjacent to the train station. I explored the downtown a little on foot, before returning to Central Station.

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    I don't know much about Gothenburg's tram system, but even on a Sunday there were extensive and busy services running through town, on a mixture of modern low-floor AnsaldoBreda units and older refurbished vehicles, some of which (above right) have had new low-floor carriages inserted between the original cars.

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    Much of Gothenburg was already decorated for Christmas.

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    Gothenburg Central Station is the oldest still in use in the country, and the terminus for the > 450km Western Main Line from Stockholm. Inside, it has two beautiful arcades of shops, cafés and restaurants.

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    There are 16 platforms, and about 27 million passengers a year use the station. There are high-speed trains to Stockholm, as well as various regional services.

    I was holding a first class ticket, so I had access to the SJ Lounge before departure. There are lounges in Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm. I spent a couple of hours here (sorry, no photos because of the large number of passengers passing through), and enjoyed a couple of hot drinks, some cold pasta and a lovely slice of apple and cinnamon tart for my first Swedish fika.

    There are two scheduled sleeper trains in Sweden: the famous Arctic Circle service from Stockholm to Umeå, Luleå and onwards to Narvik in Norway; and my train from Gothenburg to Stockholm, Umeå and Luleå. The two trains travel a few hours apart providing two options between Stockholm and Luleå.

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    Boarding for my train opened about 15 minutes before departure. The formation varies from day to day, with 9 carriages tonight, including a R12 bistro car (built circa 1968-69, and refurbished since then) in the middle of the consist. My first class sleeper carriage was a WL4 (built circa 1990-92) second from the front of the train.

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    Carriages are numbered from front to back, helping passengers locate their carriage. 

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    At the head of affairs was Rc class #1336, built 1967-68 and still the backbone of loco-hauled passenger and freight in Sweden. The majority of passenger trains are now electric multiple units.

    P1090452.jpg   P1090458.jpg

    My berth was #10, the lower berth of a two-berth first class compartment.

    The upper berth has been folded up out of the way, and instructions on the wall provide guidance on how to raise or lower it.

    In day mode, the lower of the two back cushions have been pulled down and forwards to create a comfortable seat back. The pillows were tucked in behind them. 

    First class on SJ night trains entitles you to lounge access where available (before departure and after arrival) and a complimentary breakfast - either a boxed meal and hot drink onboard or a voucher for breakfast in a local café or restaurant if you leave the train before breakfast starts. But more importantly...

    P1090459.jpg   P1090460.jpg

    ...first class also includes an en-suite bathroom, shown here. The tight dimensions meant I had to take two photographs, but the bathroom has a sink unit over the shower tray and a toilet to one side. There's a shower curtain to keep toilet paper, towels and the hairdryer dry. Due to my early arrival time (and planned early check-in to my hotel) I didn't try out the shower.

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    There are nice touches throughout. SJ provided four cartons of water, in this beautifully simple tetra-pak box. The cabin had a variety of reading lamps and two EU-style power plugs high up on the wall (good to have, but very awkwardly located for charging phones, etc overnight). There's also a fold-down table between the two seats, and additional storage space in cutaways above the corridor, beside the window and above the neighbouring bathroom.

    We left on time at 18:20, and the train began it's ~1500km journey north. The current timetable is available as a PDF here. Following the Western Main Line, we passed through Herrljunga, Skövde and Hallsberg before reaching Stockholm around 22:30. SJ receives a public subsidy for the section north of Stockholm, but the train operates on a commercial basis between Gothenburg and Stockholm. I walked back through the train, passing a couple of sleeper and couchette wagons and one seated coach before reaching the bistro car. Again, apologies for no photographs but you can find some here. A recent menu is here. I had a (typically expensive) beer and did some work, and spent some time people watching. There were a handful of passengers who were heading to Stockholm and Uppsala, and the night train appears to offer an additional (sometimes cheaper alternative) to travelling from south-west to the midlands to the highspeed day trains.

    I returned to my berth before Stockholm and fully intended to wake up and stretch my legs there or at Arlanda Airport (where the train station is right below the airport). However the call of my cosy bed was too much, and I was out like a light.

    Ride quality was superb ... I slept soundly until about 04:30 when curiosity got the better of me and I opened the curtain and blackout blind to watch the countryside roll by in the darkness. Although it was many hours until sunrise (08:35-14:15 on the day of my visit) the snow-covered forests and fields were being dramatically illuminated by the sparks emanating from the locomotive's pantograph as it stripped the overnight ice from the catenary wire. From Stockholm the train follows the relatively new Bothnia Line, a semi-high-speed railway that runs along Sweden's east coast, dramatically shortening the journey time compared to the older inland route.

    I walked back to the bistro car, which was closed and locked shut from around 23:30-06:30. The first class breakfast box retails for 69 crowns but is free for first class. It included a hot drink from the urns, a slice of rye bread and cheese, some yoghurt and muesli and fruit juice.

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    We arrived in Umeå around 07:00, calling first at the new Umeå Ostra (East) station and then the downtown Umeå Central. I alighted here and took a few photographs of the train in the pre-dawn light. The train would follow the old inland route to Boden and Luleå, about 350km to go, ending its journey in Luleå after midday.

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    There was a crew change at this point, with a new driver taking over (although I'd noticed that the bistro attendant was the same person on duty the evening before, so I presume the overnight closure of the bistro is to give him/her a statutory break).

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    Standing on the platform, I was further north than I had ever been before... although Narvik beckons for a future trip at 68º 26' N! 

    Umeå is a rapidly growing city of about 120,000 people, with lots of tech companies, a big Volvo plant and a growing university. A huge amount of infrastructural work has been undertaken in recent years. In addition to the new Bothnia Line and the new station at Umeå Ostra, in the city itself, there has been a dramatic remodelling of the public square in front of the station, with a light sculpture guiding pedestrians and cyclists beneath the road and tracks to the north side of the city.

    What was remarkable about Umeå was the number of people cycling instead of driving - even in -10º C temperatures. The city clears bike paths as often as it clears roadways, and no-one thinks anything of moving about like this.

    P1090477.jpg

    My hotel was a five-minute walk from the station. Sunrise was another hour away, but the city was coming to life, and commuters were beginning to populate the beautiful new bus interchange at Vasaplan, pictured above.

    I had a couple of days of meetings and appointments, before flying home. It was possible to get a SAS (Star Alliance) ticket to interline with KLM (SkyTeam) so I wasn't able to mirror the train journey back, but I'm hoping to get another reason to visit Umeå soon...

    I welcome questions and comments, and would definitely encourage anyone interested to consider a trip on the SJ night trains. The SJ website is superb, with clear booking info in English: https://sj.se/en/home.html
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2018
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  2. Dec 2, 2018 #2

    cpotisch

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    Thank you so much for sharing! LOVE the photos! :)
     
  3. Dec 2, 2018 #3

    cpotisch

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    It might seem remarkable at first, but it’s actually pretty easy for people to bike at crazy cold temperatures, because of how much heat you generate doing it. My dad once biked home from work when it was -12º C, in a t-shirt and shorts, and he was actually sweating. ;)
     
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  4. Dec 2, 2018 #4

    Maglev

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    Thanks for the trip report!

    I am curious about your saying you reserved the lower berth--could the upper berth have been reserved by a stranger?
     
  5. Dec 2, 2018 #5

    jamesontheroad

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    Sorry - I should clarify.

    First class compartments are not shared with strangers, however, two people can book a first-class compartment together and sleep in two berths.

    Elsewhere on the train, there are second-class compartments for 1-3 people (no en-suite bathroom; toilets and showers at the end of the carriage) and second class couchettes with 6 berths which can be designated male, female or mixed.

    There doesn't seem to be much of a price difference between a seat and a couchette, but I'm aware that students, under-26s and retirees are often able to snag very deep discounts on seats at the last minute. The seated coach was booked out on my train, mostly with young people. The university in Umeå is very big and has a lot of national and international students.
     
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  6. Dec 2, 2018 #6

    PeeweeTM

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    Thanks for making my to-do-list another item longer!  :)
     
  7. Dec 2, 2018 #7

    jamesontheroad

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    At your service  :giggle:

    My trip was for work, and I hope I can wrangle another trip to Umeå one day soon. However, the most spectacular journey opportunities are on the Stockholm - Umeå - Luleå - Kiruna - Narvik (Norway) Arctic Circle train. 

    In addition to the sleeper, there is a daytime train between Luleå and Narvik operated by SJ (loco-hauled, 2-3 carriages). The Arctic Circle Pass gives you three days unlimited travel to hop on and hop off them for 364 crowns (about USD40).

    In addition there are local Swedish trains operated by Norrtåg between Luleå and Kiruna. Info at norrtag.se
     
  8. Dec 2, 2018 #8

    flitcraft

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    Thanks for the report and photos. I am scheduled to be in Copenhagen for a few weeks next fall, and you've given me an intriguing option for a (rail)road trip! 
     
  9. Dec 2, 2018 #9

    oregon pioneer

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    Thanks so much for your trip report! It brings back fond memories of my trip from Stockhom to Narvik in 1983. I chose to take the inland route to the north. The train was a little double-ended diesel job with hard, upright seats, that rocketed noisily along through seemingly unending pine forests. I stopped in Leksand, Ostersund, and Abisko (where I participated in their midsummer eve festivities and walked along the Kingsleden trail). Definitely want to go back, on a more comfortable train next time, LOL.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Dec 3, 2018 #10

    v v

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    Super, beautifully written
     
  11. Dec 3, 2018 #11

    jamesontheroad

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    jamesontheroad

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    Thanks for sharing that memory. This helps me clarify what I misunderstood about the inland route. The route you took is now closed to regular passenger traffic, although Inlandsbanan continues to operate a railcar for summertime tourist traffic. It takes about 14 hours end to end (from Östersund in the south to Gällivare in the north).

    The map in your post also includes (to the east) the Upper Norrland Main Line (Stambanan genom övre Norrland). This was the main north-south railway once the Inlandsbanan closed. However the new (coastal) Bothnia line section between Härnösand and Umeå isn't shown, and that's the route that now shortens journey times to the north. The Upper Norrland Main Line is now used exclusively for freight and occasional passenger diversions (there a couple of dates later in 2018 when the sleeper skips stops south of Umeå and takes longer, which suggests it'll be following the Upper Norrland route on diversion.

    Thank you, many thanks to all who commented.
     
  12. Dec 31, 2018 #12

    Metra Electric Rider

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    I've taken the sleeper between Boden and Stockholm many times back before the Botniabanan was even in planning. Definitely pine forests all the way until maybe Gävle and then oak studded fields (and suburbia) to Stockholm. Swedes can get chatty while traveling - I've had many pleasant chats on the train. I think it was also due to shared sleeper accommodations as well.

    As a side note, I don't think that the Inlandsbanan ever saw heavy traffic - the main line through Norrland was always the main line, since it served the bigger cities (by Swedish standards anyways) along the Gulf of Bothnia. It does look like a fun day trip though (the Inlandsbanan) - though it's really a two day trip.

    I've always wanted to take the train from Narvik to Kiruna - it looks spectacular as it climbs up to get to Riksgränsen. I'm trying to talk one of my friends into hiking part of Kungsleden at some point before we get too old.
     
  13. Aug 1, 2019 #13

    gaspeamtrak

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    Excellent trip report !
    This is on "bucket :)list" to do!!!
    Thank you for sharing...:):):)
     
  14. Aug 1, 2019 #14

    jamesontheroad

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    Thanks for the kind words!

    In fact, this is an opportune moment to tell everyone that we have now emigrated to Umeå, Sweden. Last year’s visit was for a job interview, and this month the work begins.

    We made the whole trip from Norwich, England by train. We sold or stored our stuff, shipped four suitcases of clothes, and then carried only our folding bikes and small bags on the trip.

    I probably don’t have time to write a full travelogue or trip report, but you can read a stream of tweets from during the trip if you start here:

    https://twitter.com/jbenedictbrown/status/1154074568551743493

    We travelled during last week’s heatwave, hitting western Germany during exceptional high temperatures of 40°C (105°F). There was a lot of disruptions and some very tight connections, but we made it.

    Now that I’m based in the ‘Norrland’ of Sweden I look forward to planning many more trips by rail.
     
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  15. Aug 1, 2019 #15

    gaspeamtrak

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    Wow! Congratulations on the new job ! :)
    I will checkout the twitter.com website...
    Looking to forward to some of those trips that you are planning as trip reports please ??? :):):)
     
  16. Aug 1, 2019 #16

    gaspeamtrak

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    Just read your twitter website very interesting trip ! :):):)
     

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