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