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VR returning to near-normal train service, foresees rise in domestic travel

The rail operator says it is expanding services to cities such as Kokkola, Kemi and Jyväskylä, but not in response to planned Finnair cutbacks.

junia laiturilla ja yksinäinen matkustaja sekä kaksi kuljettajaa
Some overnight trains are returning to service. Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

Finnish State Railways VR will expand train services from 14 June. VR's director of passenger services, Topi Simola, says that the company will return to about 85 percent of normal traffic levels.

Some night trains will also resume service. VR will release its summer timetables this week.

During the coronavirus pandemic, VR has been operating about half as many trains as usual.

"We expect a rise in domestic tourism after the corona restrictions are lifted,” Simola says.

He says that VR has an 80-point list of measures it is taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its operations.

"For instance passengers are being spaced further apart and being given guidelines on the safe use of public transportation. We’re also using many means to ensure that our staff are only working when they are healthy,” Simola says.

VR, which still has a monopoly on passenger rail services, has also launched a new type of ticket intended to allow more flexibility during the uncertain corona era. The new tickets can be used for up to half a year from the date of purchase.

"Ticket sales look promising so far. We’re trying to encourage people to take a cautious re-start to travelling,” Simola says. The new tickets are only available through VR’s mobile app.

'No impact' from Finnair plans

This past weekend, national airline Finnair said it would cut back on or possibly even cancel routes to smaller airports around Finland such as Kokkola, Kemi and Jyväskylä. Simola says that has not directly affected VR’s plans so far.

"We’ve made our decisions based on the lifting of state restrictions and on the belief that domestic travel will increase this summer. We’re increasing traffic to Kokkola, Kemi and Jyväskylä, for instance, but that is not connected to Finnair’s decisions.

The government, which owns all of VR and just over half of Finnair, has pledged to boost rail traffic as part of efforts to meet its ambitious climate target of a carbon-neutral Finland by 2035.

Study: Rail more efficient under 400 km

A study published in early May at the University of Jyväskylä concluded that it would be more efficient to replace domestic flights of less than 400 km with high-speed rail links, as the overall time needed to travel would be the same or less, while greenhouse gas emissions would be 17 times lower on average.

The European Commission, too, recommends the use of trains for journeys of less than 400 km. That would cover trips between Helsinki and most cities in southern and central Finland, including Jyväskylä and Kuopio. Joensuu and Vaasa are just slightly further away.

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