Helsinki Metro marks up 30 years
The capital's Metro system went into service on August 2nd, 1982. It connected Eastern Helsinki to the downtown area. Now it is heading west.
By Susanna Kosonen
”This is like a dear child to me. Every once in a while I come to check how it is doing.”
Jan Olin looks around the Tallinnanaukio Square of Helsinki’s Itäkeskus shopping mall.
His touch is evident in several of the Eastern Helsinki Metro stations. Olin was one of the architects responsible for designing the Itäkeskus.
Olin remembers how he used to follow the metro discussion already prior to the year 1969, when he was hired by the City Planning Department to work as an architectural student trainee on a development project for Helsinki's eastern suburbs.
After the war, Helsinki was expanding briskly, and the traffic started to get congested.
There were some infrequent bus routes from Eastern Helsinki to the city centre. Even for these buses it was difficult to find space at the Central Railway Station Square.
The decision-makers could not agree on the measures with which to solve the traffic arrangement headaches: additional bus routes, wider streets, or perhaps fast suburban trains.
In 1955, the City Council members from the Social Democrats and the Finnish People's Democratic League (nowadays the Left Alliance) launched a probe into the need for a metro. According to the working group’s report, a metro system was indeed what the capital was missing.
After that, the city fathers argued back and forth for ten years before the construction decision was finally taken.
“The decision to build a metro system was made, although there was no idea of where the funding would come from. A huge risk was taken.”
There was a lot of vagueness and even suspicions of malfeasance regarding the Metro decisions.
In the late 1970s the metro committee was suspected of having exceeded its powers in the carriage purchases, but the charges were dismissed.
Metro office director Unto Valtanen, on the other hand, received a custodial sentence for accepting bribes.
The funding when it came was inadequate to the task, and Olin frets over the Eastern Helsinki outdoor stations and the overground sections of the track. According to Olin, the fixing of these weaknesses will prove expensive sooner or later.
Sure, it is a bit of a stub compared to the metro systems in, say, Moscow or Paris or London, but primarily the capital area residents are still happy with their Metro, which turns 30 this month.
In customer satisfaction diagrams, the curve representing the Metro always lies highest when passengers are asked to rate the capital area’s various modes of transport.
The grade given to the metro is always higher than that of the bus, train, or tram options, or the combined rating of all these means of getting people around.
A sleepy Hanna Kulovesi stands on the platform of the Itäkeskus Metro station. She is on her way to work. So, what kind of means of transport is the Metro?
“Pretty basic”, is Kulovesi’s reply.
The train runs into the station and Kulovesi, 16, steps on board. Her destination is Ruoholahti, where she works as a waitress.
Ruoholahti is the last of the present metro system’s 17 stations, and basically the only one to the west of the city centre.
Last year more than 60 million passengers used the metro. The busiest station was the one at the Rautatientori Square, through which more than eight million people travelled.
This is not surprising, considering it is plumb in the middle of town and also the interchange station for overground trains at the Central Railway Station.
Ultimately the Metro has been cheaper than other means of public transportation. The outlay has been nine cents per passenger per kilometre.
Hanna Kulovesi rides the Metro nearly every day. In her opinion it is fast and easy to use.
In her circle of friends, however, the Metro is not exactly the most exciting or sexy way to get around.
“Its image is not the best possible. It is a bit like East Helsinki itself. Not quite a ghetto, but not far from it either.”
Kulovesi has never been afraid on the Metro. Neither the security guards nor the occasional drunken passengers trouble her unduly.
Seventeen minutes after the departure from Itäkeskus, the train glides into the blue-hued Ruoholahti station and Kulovesi alights.
If everything goes as planned, the first station of the Western Metro extension (Länsimetro) should open in Ruoholahti in 2015.
By then around 13.9 kilometres of new tunnels will have been added to the network.
The Western Metro will serve around 100,000 daily passengers, its builders reckon, and will initially extend to Matinkylä in Espoo, with a further extension to Kivenlahti also planned.
The Western Metro, however, does not enjoy unreserved support. One writer on the opinion pages of Helsingin Sanomat reckoned that the staunchest supporters of the Länsimetro venture are in fact private motorists, who want to get rid of buses on the Länsiväylä urban motorway artery that runs through the southern parts of Espoo.
Many people object to the western extension because of its hefty price-tag: the present cost estimate stands at a cool EUR 713 million.
Five years ago, however, the city of Espoo approved the extension of the Helsinki Metro into impeding their progress its territory.
The tunnel excavations are just past the halfway point. Enormous amounts of crushed stone are transported to the former docklands island of Jätkäsaari, where it is used as land filler. Helsinki is expanding into the sea.
The new tunnel that is under construction lies at a depth of 30 metres.
Some dim rays of daylight penetrate down from the surface through a large vertical hole, which will be used for ventilation and emergency exit purposes.
Construction site foreman Lauri Muona observes workmen performing some drilling towards the top of the vertical shaft. “Low-quality stone”, Muona replies when asked about the biggest inconvenience in tunnelling work.
And then of course there are the local residents who complain about the noise.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 2.8.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Question of length of Metro trains and station platforms resurfaces (3.8.2012)
Espoo City Council approves project plan of Western Metro extension to Kivenlahti (12.6.2012)
Ring Rail Line (another significant local transport venture, linking the city centre with Helsinki International Airport)
Helsinki Metro (HKL)
Helsinki Metro (Wikipedia)
Official website for Länsimetro (Western Metro Extension)