Rail transport in Sweden

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SJ X2 2036, Göteborg C, 2019 (01).jpg
National railwaySJ
Infrastructure companySwedish Transport Administration
Major operatorsSJ, Tågkompaniet, Snälltåget, Pågatågen
Ridership264.6 million[1]
System length
Total15,006.25 kilometres (9,324.45 mi)
Double track4,925.75 kilometres (3,060.72 mi)
Electrified8,100 kilometres (5,000 mi)
Track gauge
Main1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)15,006.25 kilometres (9,324.45 mi)
Main15 kV  16.7 Hz AC
Longest tunnelHallandsåstunneln (12.25 km)
Longest bridgeÖresundsbron (9.025 km)
Highest elevation592 m a.s.l.
Lowest elevation17 m b.s.l.
System map.
Passenger cars

Rail transport in Sweden uses a network of 15006.25 km of track, the 22nd largest in the world. Construction of the first railway line in Sweden began in 1855. The major operator of passenger trains is the state-owned SJ AB.

In 1988, prompted by SJ's large deficits, the Swedish parliament privatized the network by ordering that the ownership of rail infrastructure be separated from the ownership of train operations, and opened up the system to private sector train operators by introducing competitive tendering for local rail service contracts.[2]

Unlike the roads, railways in Sweden use left handed traffic for the trains (same as metro), because Sweden drove on the left until 1967, but railways did not switch traffic due to extremely high cost. Only railways in Malmö and further south use RHT due to connection with Denmark.

Sweden is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC Country Code for Sweden is 74.


Major national passenger train operators SJ AB (usually just called SJ), and the cargo transport operator, Green Cargo, are both fully owned by the state. A private company Tågkompaniet operates in central Sweden, and there are a number of regional companies. Tram systems are used in Gothenburg, Norrköping, Stockholm and, since 2020, Lund. There is a metro system in Stockholm, the Stockholm Metro.

Dining car at the luxury blue train from Uppsala to Gothenburg at Stockholm Central Station

While most current railway lines of Sweden were determined and built by the state, and receive their technical upkeep from the public as well, SJ no longer holds a monopoly on operating and owning passenger trains where such can be run profitably on a commercial basis. Large parts of the rail network serve parts of the country which don't generate enough passenger or cargo traffic to make a profit, and on some of these stretches SJ has held a de facto monopoly until very recently (2010, see below in this section) Average speed is an important factor regarding profitability (more distance per hour means more income per hour).

For regional trains (within a county or up to about 100 km distance) the counties will buy traffic, signing a contract with an operator. The operator is often SJ, but sometimes another operator, either Swedish or from one of the other EU countries, provides the service. For these regional trains the county transport authority sells tickets. For long-distance trains (i.e. longer than the regional trains) that are not profitable, a national authority "Rikstrafiken" signs a contract with an operator to move traffic on each line (Public Service Obligation). In this case each operator markets and sell tickets. The operator for unprofitable services usually rents trains from the county transport authority or a special state organisation. This is because trains are expensive, take from two to three years to buy (from tender to delivery), and are hard to sell if the operator loses the contract. However, for the SJ monopoly traffic, SJ usually own the trains.

A decision was made in March 2009 to cancel the monopoly for SJ. Already in the autumn 2009 free competition will be allowed on Saturdays and Sundays when there is more room on the tracks, and to a full extent all days in the autumn 2010.

Rail traffic is supervised by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), a government agency.


The first Swedish railroad for public transport using horse-drawn carriages, the Frykstads railroad in Värmland was opened in 1849.

In 1853 the Riksdag of the Estates decided that the State would build main line railways, but that other lines would be built by private enterprises (often with cities as main owners), and in 1856 the first stretch, between Örebro and Nora (a private railroad), was opened for traffic.

The main line railways were of major importance for the development of the Swedish industry. The first two main line railways were the Southern, stretching from Stockholm to Malmö in the south, and the Western, to Gothenburg in the west. These line railways were finished between 1860-1864. The Northern railway runs parallel to the Baltic coast (but not along it) up to Boden in northern Sweden, and was finished in 1894. The Inland Railway runs from Gällivare in the north to Kristinehamn in the center of the country, through the central parts of northern Sweden, and was built between 1908-1937. It was a part of the 1853 decision that the railways should avoid coasts, and not make detours to pass medium size cities along the route. The reason for avoiding coasts (most evident for the railway to northern Sweden) was to protect it from military attacks, and because steam boats were already established along the coasts as a much faster transport method than before. Railways built by private companies, e.g. Västkustbanan (1888), were however sometimes built very close to the coast.

The construction of the early main lines provided a fast and safe connection from the mines in the north to the rest of Sweden. It also facilitated business (and private) travel, which had earlier required horse-drawn carriages. Roslagsbanan is the oldest electrified railway line for personnel transportation in northern Europe. Malmbanan, the railway line between Luleå, Sweden, and Narvik, Norway was inaugurated on July 14, 1903. The stretch between Kiruna and Riksgränsen was the first major railway line in Sweden to be electrified in 1915.

Main Line railways built in Sweden between 1860-1930.



Main lines[edit]

There used to be six main lines (stambanor), all nationally owned:

Some lines were upgraded to main lines but have since been downgraded:

  • Mittbanan (Norrland cross line), about 500 km, Sundsvall-Norwegian border through Ånge-Östersund
  • Inlandsbanan, about 1300 km, Kristinehamn-Gällivare through Mora-Östersund

The naming rationale was that lines built by the state were main lines, but others, such as by private companies, were not. From 1930-195, most lines were purchased by the state, making the main line term less well defined.

Today, changes have been made in the terminology reducing the number of main lines to four. The northwestern main line is not considered a main line anymore and has been renamed Värmlandsbanan. The southern main line between Nässjö and Falköping has also been downgraded since what was once part of the Eastern main line (Nässjö - Katrineholm) is now considered a part of the southern one. The Norrland cross line is not a main line anymore, but a regional railway. The northern main line south of Ockelbo refers to a shorter way than the line through Avesta. The Ostkustbanan Stockholm-Sundsvall is now considererd a main line, since it has the majority of the passenger traffic into Norrland. The Inlandsbanan was considered a main line for a few decades, but is now a tourist railway only. The main lines are still owned by the state, except Inlandsbanan, which is owned by the counties it runs through.

Other lines[edit]

Railway links with adjacent countries[edit]

Sweden and Norway have the same ATC system and the same voltage, meaning that trains can generally cross the border without being specially modified. Sweden and Denmark have different ATC systems and different voltage, so only specially modified trains can cross the border. The X31K Öresund trains and some of the SJ X2 (branded X2000) trains can do that.

Train ferries never have electric overhead lines on board, so diesel must be used to get trains onboard/offboard. Generally locomotives are not transported on these ferries, only train cars.

International passenger trains today (2016) operate on rather few lines:

  • Norway
    • From Oslo to Gothenburg and to Stockholm
    • From Narvik to Stockholm via Kiruna
    • From Trondheim to Storlien
  • Denmark
    • From Copenhagen via Øresund bridge to Malmö, to Stockholm, to Gothenburg and to Ystad
  • Germany
    • From Berlin via train ferry to Malmö

No passenger trains operate between Finland and Sweden, neither through Haparanda/Tornio nor train ferry to Turku.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Railway passenger transport statistics" (PDF). Europa EU. 8 December 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  2. ^ Spaven, David (November 1993). "Rail Privatization: the Swedish Experiment". Scottish Affairs. 1 (5). doi:10.3366/scot.1993.0073. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  3. ^ Scandlines Archived 2008-10-22 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]

Media related to Rail transport in Sweden at Wikimedia Commons