New high-speed rail link between Helsinki and St. Petersburg likely to attract business travellers
A high-speed rail link between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is to come into service in the autumn of 2010. The new rail link, named Allegro, is intended to shorten the journey time between Helsinki and St. Petersburg at first to three and a half hours and later to three hours, down from the current five and a half hours.
In comparison, the flight to the neighbouring metropolis takes four to five hours, calculated from home in Finland to the office in St. Petersburg.
Director Mireta Humalamäki, of insurance company If, intends to make her business trips entirely by train in the future, if the new Allegro trains turn out to be reliable, reaching their destination on time.
Another If director Lisbeth Norrgård-Eklund also plans to start using the trains, at least partly.
”Unless there are similar problems to those we had earlier with the Pendolino”, she adds.
The Pendolinos are Finnish Railways' (VR) Italian-built high-speed tilting trains, which have had some serious reliability issues as they came to terms with the Finnish winter.
The idea for Allegro is to use an upgraded and modified version of the Pendolino that will be specially constructed to allow for speeds up to 220 km/h (140 mph) both at the Finnish gauge of 1524 mm and the Russian gauge of 1520 mm.
At the beginning, the new high-speed rail link is to have two departures per day.
In 2011, when the present Sibelius and Repin trains will be withdrawn from service, Allegro will have three departures from both ends every day.
All departures will carry both Finnish and Russian personnel.
The planned three hours’ journey time is possible to achieve only if all border-crossing formalities are relocated onto the moving trains.
Business travellers are one segment of the customers between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. The Finnish rail operator VR expects passenger numbers on the Helsinki-St. Petersburg line to triple within five years of the introduction of the high-speed service, eventually amounting to an annual 750,000 trips.
In fact, the aim is to capture customers from competitors.
”Passengers will transfer to trains from competing transport providers. Not only from airlines but also from buses, while also those who use a private car are more likely to choose the train in the future”, says Antti Jaatinen, the director of passenger services at VR.
In addition, the number of trips to St. Petersburg is expected to increase in general, when the journey time is shorter, travelling is easier, and because most people have already visited Stockholm and Tallinn many times.
Finland’s national airline Finnair is not aftaid of a decline in the number of passengers.
”If some local travellers start using the train, I believe that the increase in the number of travellers to far-away destinations will compensate for the loss”, says Petteri Kostermaa, Finnair’s manager in charge of the network strategy.
The Russian airline Rossija also trusts that the number of other passengers will increase, compensating for their losses elsewhere.
According to Kostermaa, Finnair would like to increase its services to St. Petersburg, but so far the Russian partner has been reluctant to agree on the request.
In fact, Finnair believes that Allegro could very well actually increase its number of passengers, when travellers from other countries fly to the Finnish capital in order to continue their journey from Helsinki to St. Petersburg using the high-speed rail connection.
Finnair is unwilling to reveal how many of their customers actually are transit passengers, but according to Finavia, around one quarter of all air passengers flying in from St. Petersburg continue onwards from Helsinki.
Finavia is a state-owned commercial enterprise that offers airport and air navigation services in Finland.
VR Group press release: Allegro: the new high-speed rail connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg