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Effects of severe frost on trackbeds will complicate train traffic and lengthen travel times this spring
1,000 kilometres of railway network will be subject to timetabling changes
The cold weather brings yet more bad news for Finland's embattled railway operator, VR.
This time it is not the "now" so much as a forward problem looming in the spring.
This spring, the effects of ground frost may well trouble Finland’s railway traffic even more than it did a year ago - that is if the temperatures are to continue as low as they have been in recent days and weeks.
Last spring the deep ground frost tested around a thousand kilometres of the Finnish rail company VR’s track network. Because of this, on certain stretches VR was forced to drop the rolling stock's speeds down to as low as 60 kilometres per hour. In all, there are around 6,000 kilometres of railroad in Finland.
Because of the ground frost damages, for the first time ever VR will introduce something called "frost damage timetables" this spring.
The adapted timetables will come into effect on April 4th and will be in force until June 5th.
VR traffic planner Sami Hovi explains that the timetables have been designed based on last spring’s frost damage experiences.
“Even if the situation proves to be worse this spring, the timetables will reduce delays and we will be able to give our passengers more accurate information with regard to travel times.”
For example the journey time from Helsinki to Rovaniemi will be 60 to 90 minutes longer, starting in April.
The changes appear when searching for travel information on the VR Internet site. The number of departures will remain the same as before.
In Hovi’s view, the poor condition of the railroad network is primarily down to the fact that 30 years have already elapsed from the previous comprehensive improvement work on the tracks. In this respect, no major improvements are expected in the next few years.
“We are talking about hundreds of kilometres of track. Substantial improvement work would require a great deal of additional funding.”
Apart from last year, the ground frost situation has not been this bad since the beginning of the 1950s.
The maintenance of the railroad network falls under the Finnish Transport Agency’s jurisdiction.
The agency, in turn, outsources the actual work to several different contractors. One of them, VR Track, announced the layoffs of 380 workers in February. According to Managing Director Ville Saksi, the reasons behind the dismissals included fewer investments in the country’s railway network by the government as well as the tightened competition situation.