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| History | Tram closure plan | Heavy rail dominance | Metro war | Trams finally to suburbs |

Helsinki area public transport history

Railways started to operate in Finland in 1862 from Helsinki to Hämeenlinna, 100 km's north from Helsinki. Public transport in the city of Helsinki started in 1888 with horse drawn carriages. First horse tram rails were laid in 1981 and electric power was taken into service in 1900.

Motor bus services started to grow in 1920's to the directions were rails were not built. For the first there was plenty of independent companies, but during the World War II Helsinki city bought the united transport company that was then organized to City Transport Authority.

Tramways expanded to the 1950's. New rolling stock was purchased for suburban services. Helsinki population expanded and suburbs were built outside the old city center. The public transport was planned to take care with high speed tram lines using multiple unit tram trains.

But then the automotive industry learned to make cars cheaper and cheaper, and the labor parties proposed 1955 in Helsinki City Council, that public transport must be put under ground to free the streets for private cars.

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Closure of tramways in plan

During the 1960's plans were made to replace plenty of old buildings in the city center with motorways. Tramways were planned to close and public transport would be taken care with an underground system. This plan in knows as ”Smith–Polvinen traffic plan” according engineering agencies Wilbur Smith in USA and Pentti Polvinen in Finland as makers of the plan. The public transport section was anyhow imported as is from the Metro Committee's papers.

The motorway building was luckily cancelled, but in 1969 Helsinki signed an order to be a pilot customer for Valmet rail industry as new age metro train production. In Valmet the managers thought that the demand for heavy metro trains would explore in the world at the time the high cost of metro building led into cancellation of metro plans in many cities.

The key features of Valmet metro trains was welded aluminum body and semiconductor control. These really were revolutionary technologies, but unfortunately applied to wrong kind of rolling stock. And what was also sad was, that these revolutionary trains were the largest in the world being wider than wide Finnish railway profile, 3200 millimeters. This made the track geometry much similar to railway lines and difficult to implement into a city structure.

Soon after the metro decision the initial closure of the tramway system was cancelled and new articulated trams was ordered. A reason for this was that tram traffic was calculated to be cheaper than bus operation. And extending of the metro would not replace trams fast enough, so old 2-axle trams required replacement. The new plan was to close the system in 2000 and the ordered trams would be the last ones in Helsinki.

Valmet, sam company as the metro train builder, got an order for articulated trams. They were based on Düwag's technology, but body was designed in Finland and power control was similar semiconductor chopper as was designed for the prototype metro train.

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Heavy rail dominance

Helsinki area has had own local train rolling stock since the first years of 20th century. Tank type steam locomotives were only motive power up to 1950's. Tank locomotives did not need a turntable at the end of the service and they also had high adhesion weight for fast acceleration.

In 1950's Valmet started to build light diesel motor units based on a Swedish licence of Hilding Carlsson. These DMU's were used around Finland but they became also main rolling stock in Helsinki area commuter trains until electrification.

Finnish railways started electric operation from Helsinki's commuter trains. The first section was to Kirkkonummi, west from Helsinki. Semiconductor controlled Valmet built EMU's started to operate in 1968. Railways local traffic was developed to a S-Bahn-like style, and one commuter train line was built during 1970's to new suburb Martinlaakso. Martinlaakso line was originally a part of the metro net plan, but the building could not wait for developing of Valmet's metro techology.

EMU's were delivered in two classes from 1968 to 1981. Then there was total of 100 two coach units in service a year before the metro started to operate. The available commuter train service shaped strongly the urban structure along the railway lines and the region expanded mostly outside the Helsinki in the neighbour cities Espoo and Vantaa.

Heavy rail connections formed only 3 ”fingers”. The area between these fingers was serviced with motorways. Orbital public transport connections missed and the result was that the road traffic started to dominate Helsinki area transport. When the metro line finally opened in 1982, it replaced the buses on the motorway beside. The bus lines were cut to end to metro stations, and the connecting feeder service system had born. This extended the travelling times. During the operating of the electric commuter trains and the metro the share of public transport has decreased from 70 % to the recent 40 %.

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Political metro war

Helsinki has planned to extend the metro line to the western neighbour city Espoo since the first ideas of the metro network. This has caused a long political war since 1980's when Helsinki metro started to operate. With it's low population density, Espoo has not been interested in investing to a heavy metro and cut the straight bus lines to feeder service. Neither has Espoo been interested in increasing the population density, as it prefers to offer a higher living quality alternative on the Helsinki urban area.

Light Rail has been taken in discussion as an alternative in Espoo. A pressing group started to promote Light Rail in 1989, and the city of Espoo adopted the idea soon. The Ministry of Transport and the Helsinki area cities called 3 auditors to evaluate the Helsinki urban area transportation system in 1992, and the auditors analysis supported the idea of a Light Rail system to the area. But Helsinki has been strongly against Light Rail to enter the area to compete against it's heavy metro.

Authorities has ordered plans for the metro to Espoo in approximately 10 years intervals. Allways the result has been that metro increases travelling times and public transport cost. The latest study was Environmental impact study released in January 2006. That proved, that also car traffic in Helsinki will increase if the metro extension will be built.

In September 2006 Espoo city council changed it's mind. Espoo agreed the idea of the metro extension, but with many terms to quarantee the high quality of the metro in Espoo. Rumors say that the real reason was to make Helsinki to agree the extension of the Ring road 2 from Espoo to Helsinki side. During 2007 a project plan has been under work to make more precise planning and price estimate. After the plan is finished, there will be the time to decide to proceed to ask for offers for the building.

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Trams finally to suburbs

New low floor trams were delivered to Helsinki from 1999. Some minor extensions of tram lines has been built for few new areas, but the Helsinki authorities has considered trams as slow street tram system not capable for suburban service.

Despite the metro hegemony, city planners have drawn some plans to extend the tram network outside the city centre. The first big plan was an orbital tram line called ’Joker’ released already in 1990. The idea competed with the metro extension to Vuosaari and was not realised. The line was finally opened as a bus service in 2005. The number of passengers has grown on the line continuously over the capacity of buses, but still major traffic planners are against to build the line to tram. The daily number of passengers in September 2007 was 20.000. Headway of the 3-axle buses is 5 min., but still some support service is required.

A new northern suburb Viikki was planned with a tram line in 1990's, but the tram is still missing and the inhabitants claim for bad public transport service. The first real tram extension seems to bee the former western harbour Jätkäsaari. It is just near city centre so the extension of two existing tram lines 6 and 8 is quite natural. The building will start in 2008.

The first real suburban tram line will be the line to Kruunuvuorenranta across the sea east from Helsinki city centre. This connection was originally planned as heavy metro, but this idea is cancelled because of the high price and low passenger number for an investment of that price. The line will cross seawater offering several kilometers shorter route than with cars. There exist a political understanding too that the line must be built at the time the houses are built to have the benefit in the land price and make the tram familiar for the inhabitants instead of travelling with cars.

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This page created at 25.3.2003 / AA. Latest update 8.10.2007 / AA