"Trams are a sophisticated means of public transport," says Matti Lahdenranta, Managing Director of Helsinki City Transport. Photo: Paul Williams

"Trams are a sophisticated means of public transport," says Matti Lahdenranta, Managing Director of Helsinki City Transport. Photo: Paul Williams

1 Oct 2009

Trendy travelling by rail

"There has been a dramatic change in the way people perceive public transport in Helsinki. There is also a strong political will to support this development. And in both cases it is especially rail transport that is becoming the trendy way to travel."

These are the words of Mr Matti Lahdenranta, managing director of Helsinki City Transport. He adds that this is the trend in most other cities in Europe, as well. One major cause is concern about climate change.

Focus is being directed from buses towards rail transport for several reasons. Mr Lahdenranta gives a few examples: trams and the metro are more convenient to travel with-the motion is smoother, the ride is less bouncy, there is less noise. And there are no direct emissions into the city air.

A long-term goal of the City of Helsinki is to replace all buses in the city centre with trams and the metro. Trams have been part of the city view for over a hundred years.

"Rail services have a higher status in people's minds. Trams are seen as a more sophisticated means of public transport than buses," adds Mr Lahdenranta.

Cooperation in the metropolitan area

For several years, the cities of the Helsinki metropolitan area have been developing public transport in close cooperation and the common efforts are on the rise. The basic starting point for the development of public transport is rail services; trams, metro, and trains.

"There are 1,3 million inhabitants in the Helsinki metropolitan area and its surrounding municipalities. We have to focus on the sustainable development of the traffic circulation in general. If everyone drives his or her own car, there will not be much traffic, only traffic jams. It is therefore very important that other means of travelling are facilitated in this area," he says.

In 2014 the metro line will be extended by 14 kilometres westwards. The new metro cars will be fully automated. Also the existing cars, as well as the entire traffic control system, will be upgraded accordingly. The current control system was taken in use in the early 1980s, when the metro was introduced to the citizens of Helsinki.

Mr Lahdenranta is enthusiastic when he describes the new metro cars.

"The automation will improve passenger safety as the risk of human mistakes will decrease. The platforms will be closed with platform screen doors and the doors will only open when the metro stops at the station. The trains will be shorter and the average time between departures will be decreased, from 4 minutes to 2.5 minutes", he says.

Offer alternatives!

An eternal question in discussions about the use of public transport services versus the private use of cars is whether improvements in public transport are really worth the cost. With a background education as a traffic engineer, and working his entire life with public traffic issues, Mr Lahdenranta has clear thoughts on this issue: the more opportunities you offer, the more will people seize them.

In fact, Mr Lahdenranta does not see public transport as opposite to other means of traffic. By improving public rail transport, also cars and buses benefit.

"They are all part of the entire traffic system. Even though we are investing in public transport, a lot of improvements are also being made in the road network. The one does not exclude the other. It is about increasing people's comfort and well-being, protecting the environment and supporting commerce and industry," he concludes.

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