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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Allegro: the new high-speed rail connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg

The high-speed rail link between Helsinki and St. Petersburg has been given the name Allegro. The livery for the high-speed trains on this route will consist of a white background with blue, red and silver stripes. The trains are due to come into service in 2010.

The word allegro comes from Italian, where it means “fast”. Ease of pronunciation and usability in the Finnish and Russian languages, as well as internationally were subject to special attention in the name selection. Inspiration for the new trains’ livery came from the colours of the Finnish and Russian flags.

This high-speed rail link is intended to shorten the journey time between Helsinki and St. Petersburg at first to three and a half hours and later to three hours, down from the current five and a half hours.

Passenger numbers on the Helsinki–St. Petersburg line are expected to triple within five years of the introduction of the high-speed service. In 2007, the Helsinki–St. Petersburg line carried some 230,000 passengers. Total passenger travel between Finland and Russia last year amounted to nearly 400,000 journeys, which is an 18% increase on the previous year. The growth has continued to increase this year: in the period from January to November, passenger numbers on trains to and from Russia increased by 9 %.

Last autumn the train operating company Oy Karelian Trains Ltd placed an order for four high-speed trains. According to the company’s plans, three services will operate in each direction daily in the initial phase, with the number of services later increasing to four per day in each direction.

The new trains will have a “dual voltage” system to enable them to operate on both the Finnish and Russian rail networks. The top speed of the trains will be 220 km (137 miles) per hour. Each train will have seven carriages and a total of 350 seats. There will be a restaurant, business class area, facilities for disabled passengers and designated seats for passengers travelling with pets.

Getting the rails ready in Finland and Russia

Increasing the speed on the St. Petersburg rail line requires investment in the tracks in both Finland and Russia, in addition to the new rolling stock. All border-crossing formalities are also being relocated onto the moving trains.

The Russian segment of the line will be improved between 2007 and 2010. After the rail line upgrade passenger train are able to run at 200 km/h on St. Petersburg–Buslovskaja line section. The upgrade work also includes construction of a new electrified line between Petäjäjärvi and Kamennogorsk and freight traffic will be transferred to run via Rutshji–Petäjäjärvi-Kamennogorsk-Vyborg line sections.

Upgrades on the Lahti–Luumäki-Vainikkala segment in Finland will be completed in 2010.

Karelian Trains is jointly owned by the Finnish national rail company VR Ltd and the Russian rail company OAO RZD. It was set up to acquire high-speed trains for services between Helsinki and St. Petersburg and related maintenance services. The train operating companies VR Ltd and OAO RZD are responsible for customer service, timetables and pricing on the high-speed trains.

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