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150 years of Finnish railways – still a vital part of the transport system
Publication date: 8 June 2012
Author: Merja Kyllönen, Minister of Transport, Finland
2012 marks a special occasion in Finnish railway history: our railways celebrate their 150th anniversary. Scheduled train services began on 17 March 1862 between Helsinki and Hämeenlinna, and ever since then, rail transport has had a huge influence on the development of our society and landscape. Over the years, a large number of towns have sprung up around railway junction stations.
Today, railways remain an important part of our transport system. The train is a safe, costeffective, and environmentally-friendly mode of transport, ideally suited for high-volume long-distance passenger and freight flows. In Finland, its central purpose is twofold: to provide trunk connections between major cities, and to carry long-distance and heavy industrial transports. In the Helsinki region, there is also an important network serving commuters to and from the capital.
The position of rail in the make-up of the Finnish transport system has been largely unchanged for a long time. It accounts for 25% of goods transported in tonne-kilometres – a high figure compared with the EU average, 16%. However, only 5% of passenger kilometres are covered by rail, which is a little below the EU average of 7%.
Finland is a vast and sparsely populated country, which means our traffic volumes are low and distances long. Transport is mixed, with the network being used for both passengers and goods. The total length of our rail network is 5,919km, of which 52% is electrified.
Efforts have been made to improve the competitiveness of rail transport by raising the capacity of the network to enable increased axle loads and shortening the travel times of passenger trains. Finland’s population base does not allow the construction of separate high-speed railway lines, which is why our passenger trains operate at a maximum speed of 220km/h. The shorter travel times achieved over the past few years have been a success, resulting in significantly higher passenger volumes in services between Helsinki and eastern Finland.
A special characteristic of the Finnish rail network is the fact that it consists mainly of single-track lines (90%). For this reason, increasing the number of trains to match demand on certain sections of rail is challenging. Another issue is that a network of this type is extremely vulnerable to service disruptions. The sharp increase in volumes, the harsh winter conditions experienced over the past few years and the amount of single-track have negatively impacted punctuality.
The Finnish Government has just prepared a transport policy report for Parliament, outlining our strategic goals for the develop – ment of key national transport networks. As far as railways are concerned, the main focus is being placed on measures to improve punctuality and reliability. One measure to this effect is the replacement of the outdated rail traffic management system, which will be carried out between 2012 and 2017. Action will also be taken to raise the capacity of the railway network in terms of the loads and traffic it can carry, and railyards are being upgraded to improve service levels and keep everything running smoothly.
Finland’s economy is undergoing changes in ways that will clearly impact rail. Production continues to be sent overseas and the service sector continues to grow, while forest industry – important for railways – remains on the decline. At the same time, however, urbanisation, the growing importance of environmental values, and increased mining activities are driving demand for railway services.
Over the course of its 150-year history in Finland, rail transport has gone through a variety of technical and organisational changes. Despite all these, railways have managed to maintain their position as an important part of Finnish society. I firmly believe that the railways will continue to develop and confirm their place as an integral part of our transport system for the future.
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