Rückt Europa näher?
Datum: 25.07.2009

Die Probleme mit dem Vorortseisenbahnverkehr auf der Viborg-Richtung sind in den letzten Jahren zu einer gewohnheitsmäßigen Realität geworden. Der Ausfall der Vorortszüge, die Reparatur der Bahnsteige... Die “RGD” AG (Russische Eisenbahnstrassen) erklärt alle diese Unbequemlichkeiten durch die Arbeit auf der Strecke Sankt Petersburg-Viborg- Buslovskaja, die im Rahmen der Organisation Geschwindigkeitsverkehr auf der Strecke Sankt Petersburg- Helsinki, durchgeführt werden. Es ist interessant, was das für ein Projekt ist und welchen Vorteil diejenige haben, die nach Finnland nicht fahren.

Will Europe be closer?

Suburban railway “mis-communication” on the Vyborg line has become something usual in the recent years. Cancellations of local electric trains, repairs of platforms... “Russian Railways” explain all these inconveniences by the fact that there are repair works held on a Saint Petersburg - Vyborg - Buslovskaya track section. Reconstruction is carried out in the course of implementation of high-speed railway communication between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki. So what is this project and are there any advantages for those who are not going to Finland.
Agreement on organizing high-speed passenger traffic between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg was reached in September, 2001 during the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Tarja Halonen, the Russian and the Finnish president. The purpose of the agreement is to reduce the time spent to travel between the two cities to 3-3,5 hours. Such reduction should be reached by the means of railway infrastructure modernization and purchase of new trains. Infrastructure modernization was supposed to be performed by national railways in each country. Purchase of trains was jointly financed (50 to 50). The idea was to carry out customs control during the movement of the train to reduce the time spent on the border (this issue is more acute for the Russian side). Launch of a high-speed train was planned for the end of 2008.

Railway communication Saint Petersburg - Helsinki (up-to-date situation)

Length of the railroad between the two cities is about 450 kilometers. 160 kilometers of the tracks are on the territory of the Russian Federation, and the other part on the Finnish territory. At present there are two trains operating daily between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki – one “Repin” train of the “Russian Railways” and another one “Sibelius” of the Finnish railway. There is a daily train “Lev Tolstoy” between Moscow and Helsinki (with a stop in St. Petersburg). At the moment the journey from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki lasts more than 5 hours – this is only the time of the journey itself. To find out the maximum time we add not less than an hour – time spent at several stations (the longest stop for 20-30 minutes is in Vyborg, at stations Buslovskaja and Vainikkala) and one hour – time difference between the two countries. The maximum time turns out to be about 8 hours. The second class tickets for passengers cost more than 50 euros, for passengers of the 1st class - about 90 euros. In 2006 337 thousand passengers traveled by rail between Russia and Finland, in 2007 - 399 thousand passengers, in 2008 - 432 thousand.

At the beginning the railway authorities of the two countries took the Finnish deliberate style of work. Negotiations between the management of then Ministry of Railways of Russia and the state company VR Group Ltd (Railways of Finland) began as late as March, 2003. In December, 2003 in Moscow Gennady Fadeev, the president of the “Russian Railways”, and Henry Kuitunen, the general director of the VR Group Ltd, signed a memorandum of mutual understanding in the field of cargo and passenger transportation. According to this document, organization of high-speed passenger traffic between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki was a priority task. Preliminary cost of the project in 2003 was estimated to be 800 million euro (only for upgrading infrastructure). 600 million euro amount was planned for the reconstruction of the Finnish part of the road, and 200 million for the Russian part. However the estimated total for the Russian territory increased many times in the course of works specification.

Infrastructure renovation
Finland. VR Group Ltd started works on the infrastructure renovation on the Helsinki - Vainikkala line as early as the year 2003. The concept of high-speed traffic in Finland implies the use of the same tracks by passenger and cargo trains. Therefore the most expensive works were the ones on rectifying railroad lines, i.e. reducing abrupt turns and detours to the least possible number. The large-scale works were performed during the construction of a two-lane electrified track Kerava - Lahti 60 kilometers in length. This construction was the largest state project of the previous years and was finished in 2006. Distance between Helsinki and Lahti on a new way became more than 30 kilometers shorter. In 2007 they continued upgrading a 120-kilometer track Lahti - Luumäki (cost of works is 185 million euro) and a 32-kilometer track Luumäki - Vainikkala (cost of works is 11 million euro). These tracks do not require construction of extended new track sections, therefore cost of works is much lower. All works on the territory of Finland are supposed to be finished in 2010.
Russia. Process of choosing a plan for infrastructure renovation in our country took a long time. Two options were considered. The first option was construction of a special track for high-speed traffic parallel to Saint Petersburg – Buslovskaya line. The second one was division of passenger and cargo traffic at this section by transferring the cargo traffic to the Priozersk line with the further way on Vyborg through Kamennogorsk. Finally the second way was chosen. Saint Petersburg - Vyborg track was to be used by passenger traffic and cargo traffic had to take another route Ruchyi - Petajarvi - Kamennogorsk - Vyborg. Thus, the chosen option consists of two parts. First of all - organization of high-speed traffic on Saint Petersburg - Vyborg – Buslovskaya line. Secondly - cargo traffic transfer to the Priozersk line, as well as reconstruction of Saint Petersburg – Petajarvi line, construction of a new two-lane electrified track Petajarvi - Kamennogorsk 68 kilometers long and construction of 40 kilometers of the second track from Kamennogorsk to Vyborg.
Overall cost of the project is 67,5 billion roubles. Order of the government of the Russian Federation from November, 30, 2006 № 1708-p (in edition of the order of the government of the Russian Federation from September, 12, 2008 № 1331-p) makes a provision that state support will be granted to this project through the Investment fund, support of 35 % of the means.
Reconstruction of Saint Petersburg - Vyborg – Buslovskaya line, construction of the second track and electrification of track sections is planned to be carried out at the expenses of the “Russian Railways”. Construction of a rectifying two-lane electrified railroad track Petajarvi – Kamennogorsk is supposed to be carried out at the expenses of the Investment fund. Reconstruction works are to be carried out in the years 2007 - 2010.
Not only tracks are being reconstructed (including reconstruction of curves, replacement of the contact system), but also train stations are renovated. Passenger platforms are upgraded (at the moment about 40 platforms have been altered or repaired), construction of elevated pedestrian crossings is going on at large stations, additional equipment is supplied for the crossings.
Process of reconstructing old track sections and constructing new ones both in Russia and Finland faced difficulties due to several issues.
In Finland those were mostly environmental issues. Reconstruction of tracks implied increase in speed of movement not only of passenger, but also of cargo trains which would use the same tracks in Finland. Accordingly, vibration and noise, first of all from cargo trains would increase considerably. Therefore it was necessary to find a way to reduce vibration (by ramming additional piles) and noise (by installing noise absorbing screens).
In Russia environmental issues were not that important. Though we did also have several acute problems, in particular, connected with the growth of oil trains traffic through Vyborg. But the reconstruction became a real disaster for inhabitants of Leningrad area and St. Petersburg who use the local trains going in the direction of Vyborg. Since 2007 train cancellations due to repair works have reached its extreme. Intervals between local trains because of repair works sometimes reached 8 hours. Complaints of passengers did not help to noticeably improve the situation. Only by the beginning of 2009 when the significant part of repair works on the track section Saint Petersburg-Vyborg-Buslovskaya were finished, “Russian Railways” declared that the time between trains would not exceed 4 hours. Now, when renovation of track facilities and infrastructure on the Saint Petersburg - Vyborg - Buslovskaya track section is almost finished, it would be good for the passengers of suburban electric trains to also enjoy the work done. First of all this concerns putting an end to constant schedule changes, and secondly making trains to operate according to the schedule. How important it is we can see on the example. Whereas schedule states that the trip to Zelenogorsk by train should take an hour, in practice it takes 10-20 minutes more. Actually there is this problem also on other train routes, but the railway personnel should use the advantages of division of cargo and passenger traffic on this track section not only to the benefit of high-speed trains, but also to the benefit of general suburban electric trains.

Rolling stock
In November, 2006 Vladimir Yakunin, President of "Russian Railways", and Henri Kujtunen, then VR Ltd chairman of the Board, signed an agreement on establishing a joint venture Oy Karelian Trains Ltd.

Oy Karelian Trains Ltd

Oy Karelian Trains Ltd was founded in 2006 as a joint venture of "Russian Railways" and VR Group Ltd, both companies have a 50 % stake in the authorized capital which totals 1 million euro. It consists of 1000 shares with a nominal value of 1 thousand euro each. The Board of the joint venture is elected by the Assembly of shareholders of Oy Karelian Trains Ltd. The Board consists of two representatives from each shareholder company. Michael Akulov, the vice-president of "Russian Railways” responsible for passenger traffic, is the Chairman of the Board. The company was created with the purpose of purchasing new trains according to the tender results, providing maintenance service, as well as leasing out rolling stock of VR Ltd and "Russian Railways" for commercial operation. Ilkka Keränen, the development manager of the passenger Department of the Finnish Railways, was appointed to a post of the executive director of Oy Karelian Trains Ltd in 2006. Ali Huttunen was appointed to this post in June, 2008. Earlier Ilkka Huttunen occupyied the position of the Head of the Designing Bureau VR-engineering. At that time he was the head of the Finnish delegations at the negotiations with the representatives of “Russian Railways” on technical issues of high-speed communication.

In December, 2006 Oy Karelian Trains Ltd announced international tender to purchase rolling stock to organize high-speed railway communication between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki. Oy Karelian Trains chose five companies to take part in the tender: German Siemens, Canadian Bombardier, French Alstom and two Spanish firms - Talgo and Caf.
In May, 2007 at the Second international forum «Strategic partnership 1520» in Sochi Vladimir Yakunin, the president of “Russian Railways”, announced the victory of a French company Alstom in the tender for high-speed train delivery for a Saint Petersburg - Helsinki line.
French company Alstom produces energy-generating and power-distributive equipment, railway equipment and trams (TGV, Eurostar, Pendolino, Citadis). Alstom Transport is the world leader in high-speed passenger train manufacturing. The most famous of those is the TGV train which has been the fastest in the world since 1990. In 2007 TGV broke its own speed record, having shown the results of 574 km / hour. Oy Karelian Trains Ltd was offered to buy Pendolino trains. The speed of Pendolino is lower, than the one of TGV. But Pendolino is equipped with a body tilt technology which allows the train to show 30 % more speed than another train would show in identical conditions.
The train for Oy Karelian Trains Ltd has double power supply system which allows it to operate in both countries. The maximum speed of the train movement is 220 km/h. Each train consists of seven cars, including business class car, five 2-nd class cars and a dining-car. The train is to host 350 passengers.
Alstom victory could be predicted. The thing is that within the last several years 11 Pendolino trains in a special winter version have been used in Finland and acquired a good reputation. And in June, 2006 in the course of the preparation for high-speed communication the Finnish Pendolino train was tested in Russia on the Saint Petersburg - Chudovo and Saint Petersburg – Buslovskaya track sections. Thus, Alstom victory was mostly predetermined.
The agreement between Oy Karelian Trans Ltd and Alstom on delivery of four Pendolino Sm6 trains was signed in September, 2007. The contract value is 120 million euro. Construction of trains is financed by the Finnish OKO Bank Group. The new trains are constructed at Alstom factory in Savigliano (Italy).
In December, 2008 Karelian Trains gave names to the new trains - Allegro (which means fast, vigorous). Delivery of the first two trains is planned for autumn 2009, the two others - for May, 2010.

Pendolino VR Ltd train being tested in Russia, June 2006

By the way, in the nearest future the goods produced by Alstom will appear in Russia in much bigger volumes than 4 Allegro trains. Apart from the contract with Oy Karelian Trains, the company also won the “Russian Railways” competition for delivery of two-storeyed passenger cars. In March, 2009 the agreement was signed according to which Alstom purchased a blocking share of the leading locomotives and cars manufacturer in Russia – “Transmashholding”. Alstom together with “Transmashholding” are going to develop new cars and electric locomotives. “Russian Railways” is a co-owner of “Transmashholding” (25 %) and is extremely interested in development of its main supply-business.

Criticism of the high-speed communication project
Those who criticize the high-speed railway communication project articulate the argument that such high costs of the infrastructure preparation will make the project unprofitable. The cost of infrastructure renovation should not be considered as solely high-speed traffic project benefit. Many of those who use local trains have, probably, noticed, that electric trains on parts of the track sections now move slower than twenty years ago. This means that the travelling facilities and station infrastructure require repair and renovation. Works on the Saint Petersburg – Buslovskaya section were carried out not only for high-speed communication – but also for the suburban electric trains which will be taking the same route. If separate tracks were constructed for the high-speed traffic then it could be argued that cost of these works is the loss for the project, but this is not the case. Transfer of cargo traffic to the sections separate from the passenger routes has been an acute issue for a long time. In our case Petajarvi – Kamennogorsk - Vyborg section is used almost solely for cargo traffic. Taking into account growth of freight turnover in ports of Vyborg, Vysotsk and Primorsk (turnover was growing before crisis and the growth will undoubtedly continue after the end of the crisis), transfer of cargo traffic to separate tracks is a long-term solution. And it is even less possible to attribute the cost of renovation and infrastructure (platforms repair, construction of crossings above the tracks, arrangement of crossroads, etc.), to the high-speed communication project. Those are investments in infrastructure. Without it no railway can function or develop.
It is important to consider not only the financial side of the project, but also the image aspects. We should take into account the growth of Russian railways status as well as improvement of Russia’s attractiveness for foreigners.
In the European countries Pendolino trains are supposed to move on the normal tracks not prepared for high-speed traffic, and trains accelerate up to 250-275 km / hour. In Russia, it is necessary make special preparations on the roads even for the 200 km / hour traffic. It is a signal showing, that Russian railway infrastructure lags behind the world standards. There is an argument that the distances are shorter and population density is higher in Europe than in Russia and therefore there is a demand for high-speed traffic in Europe and not in Russia. This argument is valid to some extent. But it is not applicable for the case of organization of high-speed railway communication between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki. The distance is ideal for high-speed traffic, there is a growing volume of passenger traffic mostly due to the high popularity of a route among the inhabitants of such a large megacity as Saint Petersburg. It is important to take into account that the project of high-speed communication between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki is a part of the plan on developing a high-speed communication in Russia. According to the “Development Strategy of the Railway Transport till 2030” the length of the lines for high-speed traffic (160 - 200 km/h) will be more than 10 thousand kilometers, and high-speed highways (350 km/h) will be 1,5 thousand kilometers in length. Therefore Allegro high-speed trains operation between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki will provide more benefits to “Russian Railways” - as a testing area for new technical equipment and decisions and their distribution to the other railways of the country.
The ways to deal with the coordination of national standards of the two countries and the European technical requirements with the Finnish railway and with the Alstom company will also be an example for the future similar situations connected with railways of other countries. One of the following projects is the organization of high-speed railway communication between Moscow and Berlin. In the situation of establishing international high-speed communication experience with the customs control on the Saint Petersburg – Helsinki line will also be important.
We should say that taking into consideration some negative aspects of the project of high-speed railway communication between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki, the advantages from the project are much bigger.

Prospects of operation
During the meeting of Vadim Morozov, the first vice-president of “Russian Railways”, with Lauri Ratia, the new Chairman of the Board of VR-Group, in April, 2009 in Moscow the parties noted that preparation for the launch of high-speed communication is carried out according to schedule. The crisis will not affect the date of the start of high-speed traffic. Vadim Morozov noted that certain alterations have been introduced to the Russian legislation, allowing the customs control to take place during the train movement, and now the government decision on the control procedure is being prepared.
The launch of the high-speed communication is planned for the second half of 2010. Three trains are supposed to be used at the first stage (three daily departures from Helsinki and St. Petersburg), later four trains a day will be used. At the beginning the trip will take 3,5 hours, then the time will be reduced to 3 hours. Having four trains a day will provide for a more flexible and convenient schedule.
Ticket prices for the new train are supposed to be a little higher than now - about 70 euros for the 2nd class, 110 euros – for business class. Prices will be acceptable for the majority of passengers taking into account benefits provided by the new train.
As predicted number of passengers on the new trains will increase 1,5-2 times in the nearest 5 years.
New trains will have an advantage in time in comparison with all types of transportation, may be only a little yielding to plane. Speed, comfort and convenience of going through customs formalities will be the main advantages of Allegro.
Prospects of cooperation between “Russian Railways” and VR Group Ltd in passenger railway communication between the two countries are optimistic. In the last years cooperation between the two railways is also actively developing in the field of cargo traffic. Oy ContainerTrans Scandinavia Ltd was established as a joint venture of “Transcontainer” and VR Group Ltd. But here success is less impressive, first of all because of high competition on the part of highway transportation. But these questions and issues make a topic for another article.

Colour design of the Allegro train (drawing by Oy Karelian Trains Ltd)

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