A Failed Experiment in Public Transport

Looking out of the window at 09.00h each morning you can see how the traffic from the west of Helsinki snarls up as it slowly trundles towards the carparks in the middle of town.

Your correspondent was a lead consultant in 2006 for a team that was bidding to advise the cities of Helsinki and Espoo on how to plan for the extension of the metro to the west of Helsinki.

The estimated cost was then between €700 and €800 million for a 14 kilometre underground line that would connect up with lines that were already in place linking the centre of Helsinki with two lines going east.

Our professional proposal was to build an above-land network of fast tram lines to the west with a proposal to change the existing Helsinki metro lines to a tram lines.

We estimated the cost of the new western tram lines to be around €300 million with a much longer network of tracks. We estimated that the costs of switching from trains to trams for the existing Helsinki lines to be easily covered by the sale of land freed from the currently fence protected railway.

Our proposal was shot down by civil servants as being “impossible” and we were forbidden to discuss it with any of the politicians…

Now the clever engineering geniuses have almost finished the west metro line which to date has cost more than €2.3 billion – that is three times more expensive.

The metro line is not right next to most of the housing areas – this western part of the metropolitan area is sparsely populated and spread out over a very large area so commuters must take a bus connection to the nearest metro station – a ride that easily increases travel time by 30 minutes. Then they must take long escalators before waiting for the metro train to arrive.

The result is not only a huge extra cost for taxpayers, but the number car users have actually increased from the west. These commuters prefer the warm comfort of their car with its radio and smart phone rather than the icy wet winds of spring, autumn and winter.

The bus lanes on the motorway are now empty of buses while the other two lanes are packed with slow-moving polluting traffic. The bus lane can now be used by taxis and a few hundred Teslas, and guess who can afford these cars… not the ordinary folk who sit in the metro…

In the north of Helsinki, the city of Vantaa  is planning to have a network of trams – smart folk…

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