As I write this on Friday 17th November, the western extension of the Helsinki metro system is about to open for passengers after a considerable delay, several budget overdrafts and, obviously, a lively heritage of sarcastic social media memes inspired by the various misfortunes encountered by the project:
“Which will come sooner: Donald Trump’s impeachment, the second coming of Christ or Länsimetro? and even t-shirts with the slogan I WANT TO BELIEVE.
As former Helsinki Deputy Mayor responsible for public transport and – until next week – a member of the board of the Länsimetro company established by the cities of Helsinki and Espoo to run the project, I should tread carefully when writing about it.
Still, the impact of the metro extension on the structure and functioning of the entire metropolitan region is worth highlighting once more: it is the first time that the largest two cities in Finland will be united by an underground railway.
The original Helsinki metro opened for traffic in 1982 (obviously after a lengthy delay and several budget top-ups) as a rail connection between the city centre and the rapidly growing eastern suburbs, but it operated strictly within city limits.
I have vivid memories of the opening of the metro and the subsequent years of
passengers grumbling about the termination of the time-honoured direct bus
services which were now replaced by bus links to and from the metro stations.
In fact, some direct bus services were continued for some years parallel with
the metro route to placate the dissatisfied citizens.
The complaints gradually petered out, and I think it’s fair to say that, 35 years
after the introduction of the original Helsinki metro, a clear majority of
passengers are quite happy with the service. It is to be expected that the same
process will await us with the western extension.
But the metro is not the only big public transport infrastructure project in the
region. In the early 2020’s, a light rail (or fast tram) connection will start
operating between the southern parts of Espoo and the eastern parts of
Helsinki – not parallel with the metro line, but as a kind of a rainbow arc across
the area. And by 2025, the longest bridge in Finland will be completed
between downtown Helsinki and the large island of Laajasalo in the east. The
Crown Bridges, as the connection is called, will carry two new tram lines,
cyclists and pedestrians, but no cars or trucks apart from emergency vehicles.
All in all, these huge transport investments will be essential in the process of
integrating the Greater Helsinki area into an urban community which will play
a crucial role in keeping Finland in the vanguard of civilization.
I’m looking forward to All Tomorrow’s Parties after the successful first day of
Follow Pekka on Twitter @pekkasauri