Putin joins Halonen on first run of high-speed Allegro train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg
Visas were the issue on the minds of many on the first run of the new high-speed Allegro train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg on Sunday.
Vladimir Yakunin, director of Russian Railways, said at a press conference in Helsinki that there are moves for lifting the visa requirement for passengers on the train. He says that he has already written about the matter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Cruise passengers from Helsinki to St. Petersburg can already travel visa-free, and the Finnish railway company VR would like to see this extended to train passengers as well.
The train itself would be quite familiar to anyone who has ridden VR’s high-speed Pendolino trains that operate on main line tracks in Finland.
The Allegro is basically an upgraded Pendolino with largely the same technology and the same body.
The old-world charm of the traditional trains to St. Petersburg has been replaced by modern efficiency and speed and a smooth ride. The feeling is similar to that of flying on an airliner, but with much less noise.
One of the passengers on the first trip was President Tarja Halonen, who presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Helsinki Railway Station. Also taking the trip were ministers, MPs, civil servants and railway officials from both countries.
Security measures were heavy. There were police patrols at each station on the way and on many bridges. An empty train rode ahead of the Allegro, and a helicopter kept watch above.
The new train also attracted eager train spotters along the route.
Border formalities began already near Lahti, as the train sped onwards at about 200 km/hour.
On the way back, Finnish passport and customs inspections could continue all the way to Tikkurila.
Prime Minister Putin got on the train in Vyborg. He brought a bouquet of flowers, which he gave to President Halonen.
Security measures on the Russian side were also tight, with flashing blue lights and uniforms on all overpasses.
VR has high expectations for the new train. Director-general Mikael Aro says that it will carry 250,000 passengers next year.
The first Allegro train arrived at St. Petersburg’s Finland Station - on schedule - in about three and a half hours.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki-Vantaa could develop into a second airport for congested St. Petersburg (10.11.2010)
Allegro high-speed train to be tested on Kerava-Lahti line (27.4.2010)
New high-speed rail link between Helsinki and St. Petersburg likely to attract business travellers (21.4.2009)
VR website: High-speed Allegro to St. Petersburg from 12 December