Transport Minister: Fast new train links will benefit housing, jobs and economy

Although construction won't begin for another decade, an important milestone this week saw two new companies formed to drive the one-hour train projects forward.

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File picture of VR trains at Helsinki Central Railway Station / Credit: iStock

An ambitious multi-billion euro plan to expand Finland’s rail network and introduce high speed connections between southern cities benefits housing, the environment, and the country’s international ‘kerb appeal’ according to the Minister for Transport and Communications, and city leaders.

Speaking as two new companies were established to push the rail projects forward, Timo Harakka (SDP) says the move “makes this whole plan more real.”

The limited liability companies are majority owned by the Finnish government, with other shareholders including airport operator Finavia, and 26 municipalities and cities.

Finnish Rail Limited (Suomi-rata Oy) will be responsible for the design and planning of the one-hour connection between Helsinki and Tampere which goes via Helsinki Airport; while Turku One Hour Train Ltd (Turun Tunnin Juna Oy) will manage the Helsinki to Turk line development.

Harakka describes it as “an important milestone in our efforts to promote two large-scale railway projects and obtain full EU subsidies.”

“It connects four big metropolitan regions, Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and Oulu to a closer  network, so that represents a huge amount of people in Finnish terms” the minister tells News Now Finland.

“Also to be more connected and reachable both from whichever starting point you take, and the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport which is going to get the new airport connection [from Helsinki Central Railway Station] which will make it more accessible from all over Finland” he adds.

File picture of Social Democrat MP Timo Harakka / Credit: Demarit

Railways projects covers several government programme bases

The projects, which likely won’t see any tracks laid for at least a decade during the planning and design phase, still manages to tick several boxes in the government’s policy objectives.

Although the new connections will only be used by passengers after a 2030 deadline for Finland to be carbon neutral has passed, they’ll still play a role after that in low-carbon transport and freight haulage.

There will be increased employment opportunities as well for Finnish companies and workers during construction, and later the idea is that an expanded commuting catchment area opens up more affordable housing opportunities geographically further from urban centres – but with faster connections.

“I think it’s of paramount importance to have the commuting space widened around these metropolitan areas, as to guarantee affordable housing within half an hour or an hour max from the workplace in the metropolitan area. This I think is a huge housing project as well” Minister Harakka explains.

“Now we can think of a family of teachers, not tremendously well paid, that would otherwise strive to afford to live in Helsinki area they could as well live in Salo where they could afford a house, a comfortable space for the whole family, at a fraction of the price but still be within 30 minutes of their work in Helsinki.”

The reality is that house prices in Salo – or anywhere within 30 minutes commuting distance of the capital – will not stay low for long when the train links eventually open for business. But there’s a hope at least that prices will stay low enough that they’re attainable, and affordable for middle-income workers priced out of the capital city area.

File picture of VR train at Helsinki Central Railway Station / Credit: News Now Finland

Project progress welcomed by city leaders

While the progress of the one-hour train projects has been the subject of much political, public and media discussion for many years, the fact that companies have now been established is being welcomed by civic leaders.

Vantaa Mayor Ritva Viljanen says that developing the area around the airport isn’t only important for her city but to the whole country.

“Among all of the pending railway projects, Finnish Rail is the one that will most increase Finland’s competitiveness and international accessibility as a whole” she notes.

Espoo Mayor Jukka Mäkelä underscores that improved transport connections through urban centres in his city “promote emission-free mobility and sustainable urban development”; while Tampere Mayor Lauri Lyly says such a significant investment in infrastructure is “an effective way to stimulate the economy and support the positive development of employment.”

The plans to have better, faster, rail connections between Finland’s biggest cities doesn’t end with these new plans. Minister Timo Harakka says that later comes improved connections from Helsinki going east.

“It’s westwards, northwards and eastwards.”