An ambitious four-year plan, with a price tag north of €10 million, aims to bring back the golden age of train travel to Helsinki’s 101-year old Central Railway Station.
Refurbishments will add more comfort and choices for passengers throughout the building, in an attempt to make the station not just a place that travelers pass through but a more pleasant destination in itself.
It’s part of a trend of station refurbishments across Europe from Stockholm to Oslo and St. Pancras in London where legacy terminals have all seen major overhauls of services in recent years.
But there’s limits to what VR can do with the real estate they’ve got in Helsinki.
“The whole building is listed, and probably the most protected building in Finland by museum authorities. It’s been in a very good shape for a hundred years, and it still is, and of course we have to appreciate the construction and the building legacy” saysproject manager Jani Jääskeläinen from VR Real Estate.
During the station makeover VR will open a new service point for customers in the west wing of the complex; there will be renovated retail space and more shopping options; a refurbishment of the main ticket hall – which used to be a waiting room for 2nd and 3rd class passengers; more restaurant and cafe options added; and more comfortable places to wait for trains.
“We have been planning this together with the design team, architects and museum authorities to find the best solutions because we want to improve the services at the station and create it more like a destination again, not just a station where people quickly pass by” Jääskeläinen tells News Now Finland.
“We are changing some current spaces for comfortable and high quality restaurant spaces. That’s a big change. And we also bring comfortable coffee places where you can enjoy the good location and atmosphere” he says.
The decision on what to change at the railway station was taken after customer surveys, where passengers made it clear they wanted new and better services, more comfort and a more secure atmosphere – although that also depends on other authorities like the City of Helsinki, police and retailers themselves.
“This is a unique building. It’s so nice and when people are just passing by in a hurry they don’t appreciate what kind of propert this is” says Jääskeläinen.
Although the construction timeline is four years, this could be extended depending on getting the required permits and approvals for making any changes to an historic building.
The station was designed by renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919.
New station hotel taking shape
A separate development at the Central Railway Station sees the adjacent former VR headquarters being transformed into a Scandic hotel.
The hotel is scheduled to open during 2020 with almost 500 rooms in the building that was one of the first to be opened in the station complex.
When it’s complete the new hotel will have conference facilities for 900 people and a large restaurant, hoping to capitalise on its attachment to the train station where almost a quarter of a million people pass through every day.