Artic 402 Hakaniemi

The second of the new Artic low floor tram units of Helsinki City Transport at Hakaniemi stop in march 2014. Artic tram is a concept designed jointly with Helsinki City Transport Authority and Transtech, an Finnish rail rolling stock manufacturer. Foto Antero Alku.

About this site and about the author

Public transport in Helsinki urban area

Report of the auditors in Helsinki at 1992

Light Rail basics by the author

Reports of other cities: Prague

Book from the author of this site

Links (Finnish page)

Latest new articles and updates of the site (In Finnish)


About this site

Dear reader,

I'm sorry to offer this site mostly in Finnish. But there are plenty of high quality English Light Rail, Tramway and Urban Rail sites in the Internet. And I believe, that nearly everything that I have included into my site can be found in some of the other sites. But what comes to some special details I believe are specific for Finland or in my work, I have translated them to English.

The structure of this English version is therefore not equal to the Finnish site. I have built the English site as an independent site, based on the items I have included. If you wish to browse the Finnish version, you may notice an English link where the content can be found in the English site.

Call to promote Light Rail

The reason why this site is mostly in Finnish is that modern public rail transport is not well known in Finland. At the moment there is only one city, the capital Helsinki, having rail bound public transport in Finland. The development of the Helsinki tram network finished in 1950's when the idea of an underground public transport system was introduced. The planned extensions of the Helsinki tram network were cancelled, though the decision to build an underground was finally made only in 1969. Very few new tram tracks have been opened since, and the tram network has remained in traditional street track form without real priorities.

The lack of knowledge in Finland has been raised in view in Helsinki urban area, where Helsinki city opened a short metro line after 10 years of test run in 1982. The idea to build an underground was proposed in 1955 and the final decision to build a metro was made in 1969. During these years the Light Rail ideas originating to the beginning of the 1900's were changed to heavy rail. The growth of the Helsinki population ended in 1960's, and when the heavy metro was finally in service, it was too heavy for the size of the city. The population of the region had grown, but sprawled around the city of Helsinki as too low density to be possible to serve with public transport, especially with a heavy metro like the Helsinki metro is.

It was sad, that at the same time as the idea of the Stadtbahn was discovered in Germany, same ideas were put aside in Helsinki. And when the first Stadtbahn lines started to operate, Helsinki started to run test drives with metro trains developed from the scratch in Finnish industry. And all this ended up into situation, where Light Rail ideas were totally ejected and the tram network was planned to be closed in Helsinki too, as what happened in another Finnish city Turku in 1972.

The pressures to extend the short metro line grow during the 1980's. I was asked to establish a pressing group to promote less expensive and environmental friendly Light Rail solutions instead of extending the heavy metro. Very soon we noticed that no-one understood what we were talking about. Characteristic for the Finnish discussion was – and still is – that 'rail traffic' is understood as heavy rail only, meaning the heavy metro and commuter train services.

In 1980's it was a time without Internet, so the information we distributed the old fashion way was forgotten in the end of 1990's. In this situation the first Light Rail site was published in 1999. It included the information I made in the end of 1980's for the first time in paper form. This site is following that work but using the methods suitable for Internet.

Hoping to see new era

In the beginning of 2014 the situation in Helsinki area still remains much the same as already during the last 30–40 years. There are strong forces trying to extend the metro to west in Espoo and to east to Östersundom, even though the latest studies again proved, that the metro will increase the car use and cost of public transport. And again, the price tag has risen being now near 1,000 million Euros for only 14 kms underground line in west or at least 700 million Euros in east for a 8 kms tunnel line to the un-built forests. The knowledge about modern public transport is minimal and misinformation dominates the public discussion.

Still there are some positive signs. The former harbor areas in the city centre will be converted to housing to expand the city centre area. These new development areas Jätkäsaari in west and Kalasatama, Sompasaari and Hermanninranta in east will be served with trams, though in old street tram form with track geometry not suitable for fluent traffic. For these extensions a 40 unit patch of new trams has been ordered. There are also plans to convert an orbital bus line to Light Rail based on the plans of a German consultant company TTK in Karlsruhe. The former oil harbor area in Laajasalo isle at the east side of Helsinki will also be developed for housing and an important part of the plan is a direct tram connection over the sea to the city.

In the best case Finland may have a new tram city before the end of 2010’s. City of Tampere, 170 kms north from Helsinki, is planning a totally new tram system as a part of the regional land use plan. The city council of Tampere decided in June 2014 to forward to detailed planning so that the building of a 23 kms line may start in 2017. There are also preliminary plans to return trams to Turku, though a study made in 2008 considered trams expensive and recommended to develop powerful bus lines for the first.

Still the biggest problem in Finland is the general attitude towards car dependent urban structure. Parking norm guarantees space for cars to everybody and shopping malls dominate. Services in walking distance are exception. Traffic system is dimensioned for full car based mobility and public transport investments are never an alternative to road building. Multi level crossings and motorways are always absolutely necessary and there is no question about the price. Even the smallest section of track or bus lane must be proved to be profitable, but still it may be delayed for years. Expensive underground solutions are preferred as they free street space for cars – as was the argument for the metro in 1955.

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About the writer

My name is Antero Alku, and I am a master of sciences in engineering. I finished my studies in 1980 in Tampere University of Technology. I started my career in automotive industry but later I worked near 20 years in computer business.

As said above, I was asked to establish a pressing group to promote Light Rail already in the end of 1980's. I was also asked to join politics in early 1990's, but I did not. In the beginning of 2000's I started to think politics again. I joined to city council election in 2004 and I was a vice member in the Helsinki city planning committee 2005–2008. In practice I was a member, as we shared the meetings with my counterpart depending on available time and items to discuss. It was very interesting work and it made me feel that the decision to join politics was the right choice.

I have written two books about public rail transport. The first one was published in 2002 with the name Raitiovaunu tulee taas (Tram is coming again). The Finnish title can be understood two ways. Either it means that a tram is approaching the stop, but it can also be understood that trams are returning as a means of public transport. This book is sold out.

My second book was released in June 2007 with name Mennäänkö metrolla? – Joukkoliikenteen uusi aika. (Let's take Light Rail – The new Era of Public Transport). The Finnish name includes a word ’metro’ in the place of ’Light Rail’. That is because there is no proper translation for the German word ’Stadtbahn’ which for the most means what is modern integrated rail bound public transport. When a Finn travels in one of the worlds Light Rail or Stadtbahn systems, he says that he sits in a metro. Because often they are larger than Helsinki trams and operates faster compared to Helsinki, where trams often stand in traffic jams. The Helsinki metro is not a commuter train, but it is faster and larger than trams in Helsinki and its track is underground in the city centre and on ground in suburbs. Helsinki metro is just like the Stadtbahn, only street sections are missing. For you who are more familiar with rail traffic, I can compare Helsinki metro for the most to the Berlin S-Bahn.

In the beginning of the new millennium I decided to switch from computer business to transport. I started my own engineering agency, which is specialized to public transport and rail transport. I continued my studies from 2005 on. I study now in Aalto University's School of Engineering (former Helsinki University of Technology) for a doctorate and I also work as a consultant in my one man company. My studies include traffic planning and urban planning and design. The subject of the dissertation study plan is ”Determining the suitability of public transport.”

I have made studies for commuter train and urban rail traffic planning and researched urban rail transport. From 2009 I have worked to Helsinki City Transport within the purchase process of the new trams. The first phase was to specify the new tram, organize the tendering and choose the manufacturer. Two prototypes were delivered in 2013 and they have proved the concept to fill the requirements set. The delivery of the series production on 38 more new trams will begin in 2015. I have also worked for the city of Tampere as a tram expert to specify the tram system to be planned and built and supervising the work.

This site is created by Antero Alku, M.Sc. (eng).

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Made by Antero Alku, 25.3.2003 | Latest update 15.7.2014 / AA