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Estonian rail transport firm aims to carry steel, timber across Finland

VR's newest competitor transports coal four times a week on a single route but the Estonian firm has plans to grow.

Operail Finlandin tavarajuna Kouvolan Teholassa.
Operail Finland locomotive, file photo. Image: Antro Valo / Yle

Finnish state-owned railway firm VR's newest competitors, Estonian-based Operail Finland, wants to expand operations and start carrying goods like timber, steel and mining materials during this and next year,according to the firm's CEO Ilkka Seppänen

Launched just over two years ago, Operail Finland began operations in November. Since then the firm's trains have hauled coal from Vainikkala in eastern Finland to the port city of Hanko about four times per week.

"Those transports are linked to international logistics chains. Operations are going exactly as planned. We are satisfied with the fact that we've been able to keep promises to our customers as well as having used every locomotive as planned," Seppänen said.

Compared to VR, Operail Finland is a relatively small company with 20 employees and owns nine locomotives out of the rail yard in southeastern Finland's city of Kouvola.

Small player wants to grow

Some of the firm's rolling stock are still being retrofitted with safety and other gear for use on Finnish railways.

"Most of our staff are locomotive drivers and then there is office staff. At the moment, I would describe the organisation as small and agile," Seppänen said, but noted that the firm has no hiring plans in the immediate future.

Finland's rail freight sector was opened up to competition in 2007, but VR has continued to dominate its challengers. VR's biggest competitor Finnish-owned Fennirail recently announced long-term plans to grow its share of the domestic freight market to 10 percent.

In 2019 as the firm started its subsidiary, Operail said it was investing 50 million euros towards entering the Finnish market. But Seppänen was tight-lipped about how much of that seed money has already been spent and where future investments might be headed.

"The [50 million euros] is a total sum. We are moving forward within that framework. We need to look at how transport volumes are evolving as we make investment decisions," Seppänen said.

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