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Allegro boosts rail travel from Helsinki to St. Petersburg

Posted: 31 May 2011 | | No comments yet

The high-speed Allegro rail service between Helsinki in Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia began operating on 12 December 2010. The service cuts the journey time between the two cities by more than two hours to three and a half hours. The Allegros have a top speed of 220km/h and faster journey was achieved by introducing rolling stock with the latest technology, speeding up border formalities and improving the track. The Allegros are electric train sets, so there is no need to change engines now.

The train takes passengers from city centre to city centre. After leaving Helsinki, the Allegro trains stop in Finland in Pasila, Tikkurila, Lahti, Kouvola and Vainikkala and in Russia at Vyborg before arriving in St. Petersburg, just as the old trains to Russia have done.

The high-speed Allegro rail service between Helsinki in Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia began operating on 12 December 2010. The service cuts the journey time between the two cities by more than two hours to three and a half hours. The Allegros have a top speed of 220km/h and faster journey was achieved by introducing rolling stock with the latest technology, speeding up border formalities and improving the track. The Allegros are electric train sets, so there is no need to change engines now. The train takes passengers from city centre to city centre. After leaving Helsinki, the Allegro trains stop in Finland in Pasila, Tikkurila, Lahti, Kouvola and Vainikkala and in Russia at Vyborg before arriving in St. Petersburg, just as the old trains to Russia have done.

The high-speed Allegro rail service between Helsinki in Finland and St. Petersburg in Russia began operating on 12 December 2010. The service cuts the journey time between the two cities by more than two hours to three and a half hours. The Allegros have a top speed of 220km/h and faster journey was achieved by introducing rolling stock with the latest technology, speeding up border formalities and improving the track. The Allegros are electric train sets, so there is no need to change engines now.

The train takes passengers from city centre to city centre. After leaving Helsinki, the Allegro trains stop in Finland in Pasila, Tikkurila, Lahti, Kouvola and Vainikkala and in Russia at Vyborg before arriving in St. Petersburg, just as the old trains to Russia have done.

When the Allegro service started up, the Finnish train ‘Sibelius’ and the Russian train ‘Repin’ were taken out of service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. The overnight Russian train ‘Tolstoi’ still runs between Helsinki and Moscow.

Improved service

The Allegro train has seven coaches with 344 seats altogether – 296 in the second class section and 48 in first class.

The train has places for people in wheelchairs and for people travelling with pets, a conference compartment, and a play area for children. The play area is the first of its kind in high-speed trains like these. The Allegro also provides money exchange and tax free refund services. In the restaurant car, passengers can enjoy a quiet meal or just pop there for a quick drink or snack. The Allegros are smoke-free.

A second class ticket on the Allegro from Helsinki to St. Petersburg costs €84 and €134 for a first class ticket. The price of a first class ticket includes a snack, daily newspapers and coffee or tea from a self-service counter.

More frequent trains in the summer

The number of rail journeys between Helsinki and St. Petersburg increased by 23% in December 2010, and has continued to rise in the first part of 2011. The Allegro has played a major role in the increase in travel to and from St. Petersburg, but the busy Russian holiday season at the turn of the year was another factor. Before and after the New Year, the Allegro trains were packed mainly with Russian holidaymakers, and some trains were sold out.

To start with, two daily services are running each way: Allegro trains depart from Helsinki for St. Petersburg at 10.00am and 3.00pm and from St. Petersburg for Helsinki at 6.40am and 3.25pm.

Starting in summer 2011, the number of Allegro services will double, giving more options for business and leisure travellers. On 29 May 2010, four daily services will start to operate from Helsinki to St. Petersburg and vice versa. It will then be possible for travellers from Finland to make day trips to St. Petersburg.

Almost 350,000 rail journeys were made between Finland and Russia in 2010, which is virtually the same as in the previous year. Russians have accounted for a slightly higher proportion of the passengers than Finns on the Allegro trains so far, but the improved rail connection is also expected to arouse greater interest among Finns in travelling to Russia. Travellers from other countries form another important group in rail travel between Finland and Russia.

Tough growth targets

Antti Jaatinen, Senior Vice President of Passenger Services at VR Group says that he has been eagerly awaiting the start of the Allegro service.

“This is a historical event, since it is the first time that high-speed trains have operated a service across the borders of the European Union. State leaders in both countries have closely followed the progress being made in the project.”

VR Group and Russian railway company RZD have both put major efforts into the joint high-speed train project and have big expectations of it.

“VR and RZD share the goal of tripling the number of travellers between St. Petersburg and Helsinki in 10 years, which would mean 750,000 journeys a year,” states Mr. Jaatinen.

Avecra provides restaurant services on Allegros

The contract to provide restaurant services on the Allegro trains was signed with Avecra Oy, which provides restaurant services on the trains in Finland. Tiina Nieminen, Avecra Managing Director, is very happy about breaking into this new area.

“This opens up a completely new business environment for us. Operating on the Allegro takes Avecra into the international scene.”

The proportion of Russian passengers is much higher on the Allegros than it was on the Sibelius, so those working there must be able to speak Russian. Avecra has recruited extra Russian-speaking personnel for this.

The restaurant car on the Allegro is called Bistro Allegro. The product range includes hot meals and snacks, pastries, various drinks, refreshments and other typical kiosk products.

Ms. Nieminen says that they included food from both countries when planning the product selection.

“Passengers can, for example, choose from Russian- and Finnish-style appetizers, soups and main courses. And there is a broad range of drinks.”

Speed and travel comfort are marketing assets

A separate brand and visual image have been created for the Allegro trains, using various shades of green and blue.

“The crisp colours are taken from nature and reflect Helsinki and St. Petersburg as cities of the North. The visual image can be seen in the Allegro section of VR’s website (www.vr.fi/Allegro), which also gives more detailed information about the services available on the trains, timetables and ticket prices,” explains Maarit Haavisto-Koskinen, Head of International Marketing at VR Group.

Ms. Haavisto-Koskinen has confidence in the appeal of St. Petersburg, both to tourists and as an increasingly important destination for business travel. She considers that the prime assets when marketing the Allegro trains are their speed and comfort of travel, as well as the possibility of travelling from city centre to city centre.

“Our goal is to get as many air travellers as possible to switch to the train. We also have high targets for increasing the volume of leisure travel,” says Ms. Haavisto-Koskinen. Business travellers in particular will benefit when the extra Allegro services start up in the summer.

St. Petersburg is a major northern European metropolis with five million inhabitants. The city combines a taste of the exotic East with western luxury stores. Nowadays, visitors to the popular tourist areas in the city centre get by very well with English. St. Petersburg has plenty of sights to see, an active cultural life and action for young people.

140 years of rail travel between Helsinki and St. Petersburg

People have been travelling by train between Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and St. Petersburg, the former capital of Russia, for 140 years. The track was opened in 1870 and was built following the decision of the Russia Tsar to form a new link between the two cities. In those early years, the train took 14 hours to travel between the cities and the distance travelled was 372km.

The track has been repaired and shortened on several occasions, most recently in the 2000s. In Finland, the Allegro can reach speeds of up to 220km/h, and in Russia 200km/h. Planning of the high-speed train had been going on for a long time and really got underway in 2001, when Vladimir Putin, Russian President at that time, visited Finland. Mr. Putin and Finnish President Tarja Halonen took the joint decision to carry out the project.

The Allegro train is owned by Karelian Trains, a company jointly owned by Finnish VR and Russian state railways RZD. Ceremonies were held at the beginning of December 2010 in Helsinki and St. Petersburg to mark the opening of a new era of rail travel.

Allegros have advanced technology

The Allegro is an electric trainset that has an electric operating system that makes it possible to operate with both 25 kV AC 50 Hz and 3 kV DC power systems. The train set comprises two independent traction units, which increases the reliability of the train. Finland and Russia have different systems and previously it was necessary to change locomotives at the border. Passengers travel in comfort and safely in the tilting body train. The system enables the train to tilt inwards in curves, so the train can travel faster round bends than conventional trains.

The train’s motor and unpowered bogies and their frames, suspension and wheelsets are interchangeable. Each axle has two or three brake discs. The traction motors are located under the body of the train and connected by a cardan shaft to gearboxes on the bogies. This reduces the train mass without suspension. All bogies are fitted with a special device to prevent snow and ice building up on the secondary suspension and on the connection between the body of the train and the bogie. The Allegro is designed to operate in the cold winter conditions of Northern Europe, where the temperature can drop to as low as 30ºC below freezing point.

The electric operating system on the Allegro and the lightweight composite materials used in the train’s structures have reduced the weight of the train and cut energy consumption.

 

About the Author

Mika Heijari is Head of External Communications at VR-Group Ltd, with responsibility for media relations and media services. Mr. Heijari has worked in the media sector for 25 years, as a journalist and in corporate communications. He is a keen student of the history of rail transport and enjoys rail travel.

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