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Finland's train vandals a costly headache for rail firm VR

Graffiti and vandalism targeting station fixtures are among the biggest problems for Finnish state railways VR.

VR:n lipunmyyntiautomaatti rautatieasemalla
Replacing a vandalised ticket machine costs around 15,000 euros. Image: Ville Tiirikainen / Yle

Vandalism of railway property has become a common occurrence that is now costing state rail company VR company hundreds of thousands of euros annually, the organisation says.

According to Salla Ketola, vice president of sales and customer experience, as an example, replacing a damaged station ticket machine costs in the neighbourhood of 15,000 euros. And that does not include labour costs.

"Most typically, vandalism consists of defacing trains with graffiti, or damage to station fixtures. Often, these acts take place during the evenings and at night," explains Ketola.

It has been found that often the same people are responsible for vandalising several stations in the same area. For this reason, some stations suffer damage more often than others.

"In these cases, the perpetrators are also more easily caught because we can increase surveillance at specific stations," she points out.

Ketola also says that VR customers are usually quick to report vandalism to VR personnel.

Not just a prank

Vandalism is not only costly, it can cause headaches for passengers, as well. One recent example was seen in Riihimäki where passengers had to switch trains following an incident of malicious damage.

Last summer, ticket machines at several stations on the Lahti-Riihimäki route were out of service after being vandalised.

"It's a major bother for us and for our passengers because the service suffers. In addition, it increases a feeling of insecurity," says VR's Ketola.

VR takes all incidents of vandalism seriously, always files reports with the authorities and seeks prosecution of the perpetrators.

"We demand financial compensation and legal charges in all cases of vandalism. We are adamant about this," Ketola adds.

Mikko, who has been a conductor on VR trains for the past decade says that overall he's rarely had to deal with vandalism.

"We carry around a million passengers on commuter trains. There are individual cases, but in general travel is safe."

His colleague, Karita, who has been in the job for seven years agrees, "One sometimes comes across people intentionally making a mess, or damaging the upholstery for example, but in proportion to the number of trains running we see very little of this."

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