Trams and such: A trip on HSL

HSL (Helsingin seudun liikenne) is the regional transportation authority for Greater Helsinki responsible for all tram, subway (underground), commuter rail, bus, ferry and bike share services. Interestingly enough HSL does not own any rolling stock, but uses third party contractors to accomplish the day to day operation of the system. For example the tram system is operated by Helsinki City Transport (Helsingin kaupungin liikennelaitos). HSL however is solely in control of the sale and inspection of transit tickets. There are no gates at commuter rail stations or at subway stations. Ticket inspections are frequent and fines for not having a valid ticket are steep.

The Helsinki tram system is one of the oldest, electrified networks in the world. The  route length is about 60 miles. The 11 routes are all double track and use meter gauge (3 feet 3 3/8 inches). Overhead line voltage is at 600 volts. HKL has about 130 units, all of them uni-directional. Over 57 million passenger journeys were recorded in 2016. Service starts at 05:00 on some lines and ends around 01:30 on the Nr. 2, 3, 4 and 9 lines.

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The Helsinki Tram Network

Basically the system has four types of rolling stock. The Valmet 1 series, Valmet II series, Bombardier Variotram and the Transtech Artic units. Valmet is a Finnish manufacturer, as is Transtech. Skoda Transportation is the parent company of Transtech. Bombardier is headquartered in Canada with factories in many parts of the world.


A “MLNRV I” in front of the Finnish Orthodox Cathedral.

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Same unit at the Finnish Parliament

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A Valmet II converted to a MLNRV II

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Unit 98 at the Line 4 Katajanokka turn around loop


A Bombardier Variotram at Senate Square

Helsinki purchased forty of these Variotrams. The trams proved to be totally unreliable. They also could not deal with the tight curves and steep hills on the tram system. It got to be so bad that Helsinki and Bombardier agreed to have the trams returned to Bombardier starting in 2018. Bombardier also agreed to pay Helsinki 33 million Euros as compensation.


A Valmet II and a Variotram meet at Senate Square


A line 10 Valmet unit


A Transtech “Artic” unit


An “Artic” at the Helsinki Central Railway Station stop

These are the newest trams on the network. HKL is replacing the older trams with these Transtech “Artic” units. HKL published a pamphlet on these new trams detailing the features and technology. For enthusiasts it’s well worth reading. The link to the pamphlet is here.


“Artic” detail


Interior of a new “Artic” tram


Nice touch: a system map on the seat back


Travel Card reader on a tram


Even unicorns need to get to work!


All photos by Ralf Meier and Brad Wing, unless otherwise noted. (Sony a6500, iPhone X and iPhone 8)  ©2018

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