Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner said on Wednesday that passenger rail traffic will be gradually opened to competition by 2026, beginning in the heavily-populated south. She insists that the move is not privatisation of public rails, but it remains to be seen how it will work out in practice.
As the moves will be made through changes in the contracts between VR and the ministry, they will not apparently require parliamentary approval. Opposition leaders were quick to question the decision, though, voicing concerns over how it will impact rail workers and passengers alike.
The tabloid Iltalehti notes that Berner promises travellers cheaper tickets and more departures by the early 2020s. At Wednesday's press conference she declined to speculate on how much fares would decline in the next century.
However the boss of the main railway workers' union, JHL chair Vesa Mauriala, told the paper that he believes the reform will instead increase the cost of train services.
AL: Commuters hopeful
Aamulehti of Tampere, the largest provincial daily, notes that the overhaul will affect the city. While long-haul InterCity and Pendolino trains will apparently be unaffected for the foreseeable future, regional train service between Tampere and Helsinki will be opened to competition.
AL asked people on the streets of the city for their initial reactions to the plan. Two women who use the regional trains on a daily basis to get to work and school expressed the hope that the shake-up will bring more frequent departures. Another who rides them less frequently says “it’s nice that you’ll no longer have just one option”.
Metro: Flow food and the fallstreak
The free commuter handout HS Metro also covers the rail reform, serving useful factoids such as that southern Finland's train services cover 6.7 million personal trips a year out the national total of 75 million rail rides.
It also points out that freight train services were opened to competition a decade ago, but that no real free market has emerged, with VR still holding a virtual monopoly.
In local Helsinki news, Metro reports that a group of asylum seekers will be selling Iraqi street food at this weekend’s Flow Festival. The ‘Middle Feast’ project is being organised by the Startup Refugees network and Street Gastro chain as a fundraiser to support immigrant entrepreneurship.
The Sanoma-owned paper’s front page is dominated by a large picture of Wednesday’s most-photographed subject on Finnish social media: an unusual skypunch cloud formation, also known as a fallstreak hole, which appeared over southern parts of the country.