Scandinavia is one of the most picturesque and beautiful regions of the world. I first came to understand that beauty with a trip to Oslo, Norway in 2014. Last month, my sister and I visited Copenhagen, Denmark and Stockholm, Sweden.
In order to see some of the region's natural beauty outside of its urban centers, we decided to travel by high-speed train between the two cities using Sweden's national rail operator, SJ. The journey of 5 hours, 25 minutes across southern Scandinavia was both enjoyable and wheelchair accessible. I'd like to share more of that with you here.
Booking Tickets & Assistance
A few days before we planned to travel, I visited the SJ ticket office at Copenhagen Central Station. The agents there advised me that they could not sell tickets to wheelchair users, but I could call or go online instead. I chose the latter, and booked tickets through the SJ website at www.sj.se.
To reserve a wheelchair accessible seat/space on the website, proceed to book as normal from the SJ homepage. My sister and I took the direct high-speed train, which required no connections. This itinerary is marked by the green triangle in the first image above. We purchased a second class seat for 373 SEK (~$40 USD) per person. No fare discounts are offered to wheelchair users or the disabled, but there are reductions for students, youth (ages 25 and below) and children.
After selecting an itinerary, you'll next choose a seat. In the drop-down menu under "Special Requests", several options will be proposed. SJ trains of this type and on this route offer two options for wheelchairs. One is just a wheelchair space with table, and the other is a wheelchair space with seat. I chose the latter and was able to sit in the train's physical seat throughout the journey. More on the accessible train car later.
Once you have completed your booking online, you should call to request wheelchair assistance at +46 771-75 75 75. You should also not have a problem requesting assistance directly at the station, if you arrive early enough. I arrived about an hour before departure, found the wheelchair assistance office, and had no problem requesting help to my train. Additional information about wheelchair and disability assistance is available on the SJ website, here.
At the Station - Boarding
After checking in at the assistance office, located in the southeast corner of Copenhagen Central Station, I was taken out onto the train platform. There, I discovered a very modern train with its own wheelchair lift system:
The conductor lowered the lift onto the platform, and I was able to board in under a minute. This is the first train I've found with a built-in lift system, and it is a feature that I hope more trains will offer. Waiting on station personnel to assemble a portable lift can sometimes be time-consuming, and is a real drag when the weather is poor (or cold!), as it was on this day.
Inside the Train - The Journey
Once inside the train car, I was shown to my wheelchair space (plus seat):
Because I was traveling with my sister, I opted for the wheelchair plus seat option when booking. This allowed me to sit across the table from my traveling companion. The seat included as part of my reservation had an armrest that could be folded up, making a side-to-side transfer from my wheelchair very easy.
The conductor offered to secure my wheelchair to the floor using securement straps, but I declined. I thought this would be an onerous process to remove them should I need to use the bathroom during the ride. I have also become accustomed to rail travel without being secured, as most trains do not offer this capability. I now understand that this was an example of Sweden's commitment to accessibility for all.
The alternative to the wheelchair plus seat option was across the aisle - just a wheelchair space (without seat):
The wheelchair space alone is what I am normally accustomed to on accessible trains. This space also had securement points in the floor. Both seating areas, mine and this one, offered nearby power and a table that could be rolled up to safely and easily.
Once we got underway, I realized taking the train over a short flight would be well worth it, in terms of scenery:
My sister and I brought snacks aboard the train (purchased inside the Copenhagen train station), so I can't report on the dining car options. No meal was included as part of our 2nd class train ticket.
The bathroom was right behind my seating area, and it was very accessible:
The onboard bathroom was large and accessible. I was able to roll my power wheelchair directly alongside the toilet, making transfers safe and easy. Fold-down grab bars on both sides of the toilet were sturdy and useful. The sink was also accessible, with a place for my knees underneath. This was certainly one of the most accessible bathrooms I have seen on a train.
Arrival to Stockholm
Stockholm Central Station is large and modern, and arrival was a breeze. The conductor helped me off the train using its built-in lift, just as we had done earlier in the day when boarding the train. As soon as everyone in my train car had disembarked, I was off and headed to my hotel - right across the street, at the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel.
Public transportation connections on the city's metro subway, bus and tram services were available. We purchased an unlimited ride pass for our time in Stockholm, so we wouldn't need to fiddle with purchasing individual fares. If you're hungry after the journey, many restaurants are available inside the station and on the surrounding streets.
Riding the SJ train from Copenhagen to Stockholm was a remarkably pleasant experience. From booking to arrival, the entire experience was barrier-free. The SJ train is one of the most accessible I have seen, and I have traveled by train all around the world. The country of Sweden has committed itself to building an accessible society, and that was especially clear on the national high speed rail provider. I look forward to exploring more of Sweden and Scandinavia with SJ!