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Good news for rail travellers: More departures, upgraded services

Finland’s state railways VR has reported an upswing in passenger numbers and has now announced it is re-instating around 100 previously cancelled train departures and launching more beginning in December, while updating a number of its passenger services.

Ihmisiä Pasilan juna-asemalla.
Image: Yle

Here's seven changes that are likely to please many rail travelers:

1. Travel time between Helsinki and Oulu will be reduced by half an hour to a five-and-a-half hour journey.

VR hopes to further reduce this to five hours once rail improvements are completed.

2. Another 239 departures a week

Among these will be a return of hourly departures between Lahti and Riihimäki, in practice doubling traffic on the route. Additionally, there will be more stops added. Nationwide, all of the new departures and timetables will come into effect as of the start of December.

3. Night trains to Lapland at least through December 2017

Overnight trains north to Lapland, along with auto-carriers, will continue in service. This is expected to be a boost to the region's tourist industry.

4. New mobile app in the spring

VR is planning to launch a mobile application that can be used to purchase all forms of ground transport: trains and train seating to taxis and busses, and even pre-order a latte to drink onboard. Train pass holders will also be able to reserve seats.

5. New restaurant car menus

The traditional meatballs and salmon soup will remain on the menu in VR's dining cars, but there are changes on the way, including a wider selection of coffees, and fresher fare.

6. Conductors entering the new century

The bulky ticketing machines carried by conductors date from the 1990's and can't communicate with the online world. These are being replaced by smartphone-type devices next year. The role of conductors is also being reexamined and they may become more travel host/hostess than ticket cop.

7. Changes in ticket sales points

VR's station ticket sales points will stay open and in service for the time being. Nowadays, though, they account for only 15% of all train ticket sales. One alternative being considered is to downsize sales points and shift them onto station platforms.

According to VR, ticket prices will not be going up in the foreseeable future. The company's passenger figures have risen, thanks to lower prices. It reported this week that the use of seating capacity has gone up from 34% to 42%, while only 3% of all trains have full seats, and those usually only at peak holiday times.

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