"Upstairs please," said Enid as she booked our tickets on the 15:10 Helsinki-Kouvola InterCity train, whilst I guarded the suitcases and perused the leaflet racks.
Five minutes later the train was pulling out of Helsinki and we could finally sit back and relax.
We were now back on schedule. As a bonus we had also avoided the "buy your ticket on the train" surcharge.
Just 35 minutes (and a taxi ride) earlier we had been on board a highspeed catamaran from Tallinn,
instead of our planned hydrofoil whose departure had been delayed by two hours in dubious circumstances.
Initially we had flown to Tallinn from Manchester, changing planes in Helsinki. Our three day stay was spent exploring the interesting Old Town on foot and the surrounding area on a mixture of amazingly cheap trains, trams, trolleybuses and buses. Tallinn is easy to reach by boat from Stockholm and Helsinki. Day trips are also possible from Helsinki using the frequent highspeed catamarans and hydrofoils, which only take about 90 minutes for the crossing. (If anyone is interested in train photography in Tallinn I can pass on a list of some suitable places.) The main reason for having our holiday in May was to indulge in our other interest of bird watching even though this would mean that most tourist attractions would not yet be open. We also wanted to visit southeast Finland to take a look at the intensive freight traffic, much of it from Russia.
Back on the train it was time to take a look round our double deck coach which, in fact, has passenger accommodation on three separate levels. Lower deck is located between the bogies at platform level, allowing easy access through the wide doors. Via stairs just inboard of the bogies and adjacent to the doors you can reach the short middle decks which are located above the bogies. These are at the same height as a conventional coach and have the corridor connections. The stairs continue to the upper deck, which is the same length as the bottom deck. I confess that in our rush to get on board we had carried our suitcases upstairs (we were not the only ones) and discovered the luggage racks were too small to accommodate them.
What we should have done is used the left luggage lockers downstairs in the vestibules. These come in various sizes and need a 5mk coin, which is refundable. Smaller lockers are also available on the upper deck. There are toilets on upper and lower decks, a booth where you can use your mobile phone in private and even a small lift for moving the refreshment trolley (attendant not included) between the floors. There are four different kinds of double decker; Ed (113 seats), Eds (83 seats, 2 wheelchair spaces and children's play area), Edfs (71 seats, 2 wheelchair spaces, children's play area, conductor's office and storage area for the refreshment trolley) and Edb (business class on upper deck with 2+1 seating.) To list all the variations between them would take too long.
However, facilities in the range include separate compartments for people with pets, allergies, and families. These are all located on the middle decks; I am not sure what compartment you book if you suffer from all three! Storage areas for bicycles (skis in winter), wheelchairs and prams are available, plus radio earphone sockets at each seat and, on the lower deck, a system for boosting mobile phone signals. You get a superb view from the top deck (as long as your seat aligns with a window not a wide pillar) only realising how high you are when a normal train goes past and you look down on it. We found the ride to be excellent and to us this was the most impressive feature. More than 70 of the 92 coaches on order from Talgo-Transtech (originally Transtech) in Finland have been delivered. They feature aluminium construction and weigh 51 tonnes. Design top speed is 200 km/h, but at present the max speed in Finland for non-tilting trains is 160 km/h. Testing at speeds over 160 km/h (which only Sr2 locomotives are capable of) revealed an aerodynamic problem between the Sr2 and the first double decker. Presumably this affects the pantograph, and is not surprising as the blunt ended coach towers above the locomotive. The problem can be cured by inserting an ordinary InterCity coach between them.
Many large cities in Finland are served by both InterCity and Express (blue coach) trains with all InterCity trains now having two or more double deckers, usually in the middle of the rake of single deck InterCity Cx, Ex and Rx coaches. Enid nicknamed these "camel trains", but our train was Bactrian rather than dromedary having double deckers sandwiching a normal InterCity coach and incongruously the restaurant was an Express coach. Quite a few other odd combinations of InterCity and Express coaches were seen during the holiday. InterCity2 trains, which consist of just four or six double deck coaches, one being an Edb, serve Helsinki - Turku (along with Sm3 Pendolinos) and Helsinki - Jyväskylä.
Just before our train, hauled by an Sr1, stopped at Riihimäki we noticed the small VR depot (on the left) where a preserved semaphore signal kept watch over a pair of Dv12. Riihimäki is the northern limit of the Helsinki suburban service on this line and is a major junction. One line continues to Tampere and is the main route to northern Finland. The line we took turns east, originally running just to St. Petersburg; the passenger service linking it to Helsinki started in 1870. (Finland was part of Tsarist Russia at the time, which is the reason for Finland's railways being broad gauge.) Our next stop was Lahti, famous as a Nordic winter sports centre.
By now the line was running part way up a low ridge which gave a magnificent view (by southern Finnish standards) of low rolling hills disappearing into the distance, covered by a patchwork of forest and farmland punctuated only by the occasional pulp mill chimney. Because of slow running and a section of "wrong line" working ( most double track in Finland has bi-directional signalling) we were 24 minutes late when the train arrived in Kouvola at 17:30.
We were to stay here for four nights in the Cumulus Hotel, which is only 100 metres from the station. Kouvola is not an obvious "holiday" destination. The city centre is modern apart from the small Kaunisnurmi Historical District where wooden buildings house various craft shops, artists' studios and small museums, including The Railwayman's Museum (unfortunately only open June till August.) However Kouvola is home to Finland's busiest marshalling yard and has a large locomotive depot. It is also a main railway junction; a line from the ports of Kotka and Hamina joins the main line from the south, whilst a line from Oulu via Mikkeli, Pieksämäki, Iisalmi and Kontiomäki joins it from the north.
A perusal of the free tourist map, apparently only available from the station's left luggage counter, revealed we could circumnavigate the yard on public roads and hopefully get a view into it from the top of the local ski hill which lies to the south. All attempts to obtain a map and information leaflets in advance (by post) from the local tourist office had proved futile, which is most unusual for Finland. No maps were available when we called there, though the staff were helpful and we managed to pick up some additional local information.
Our walk started at the station which has no fewer than seven platforms and four through goods lines. Further lines to the south of the platforms connect the locomotive depot at the west end of the station to the marshalling yard immediately to the east. These lines cross the double track main line at an angle as it curves to the south since all the marshalling yard is to the north of the main line. Photography off the platforms is not a problem apart from the normal low mesh fences between some of them; mid-afternoon looking east is probably the best time. Platform One had a plinthed Tk3 2-8-0 woodburner (no 859) in amazing condition - the headlamp glasses were still intact! Obviously vandalism is not much of a problem here.
Inspection of the headlamps revealed they were lit by gas (acetylene?) fed from an exchangeable cylinder mounted on a running board. Platform One is mainly used by trains from Helsinki which reverse here to gain access to the Kontiomäki line and vice versa. This line is electrified as far as Iisalmi so the train continues with an electric locomotive.
Strangely, the locomotive which brought the train in always ran straight to the depot and a fresh locomotive was provided to continue the journey. During our stay in south-east Finland all the electric locomotives we saw were Sr1 (in fact any trains subsequently mentioned were Sr1 hauled unless otherwise stated) and all these were the older ones with a top speed of 140 km/h, later ones have a top speed of 160 km/h. The locomotive depot was always busy with many light engine movements between it and the yard. Often more than ten Sr1 were on shed plus a few Dv12 and Dv16 diesels. The depot comprises of three part roundhouses, one still in use, one converted to offices and one which seemed abandoned. There are also a few sidings, one of which runs underneath a "sand tower" capable of filling an Sr1s eight sanders without moving the locomotive. Sand is delivered by rail using flat wagons (four wheel) on which sit four separate cylindrical hoppers.
Once we had emerged at the far end of the station subway we headed east past a small factory with its own siding-cum-loading bay which held three Russian bogie vans. We couldn't see the yard at this point because a PW depot lies south of it. Eventually we arrived at the lineside some 2 km east of the station and opposite the yard's hump. Sorting sidings are to the west of the hump and reception sidings (which stretch another 1 km) to the east. The hump was supplied with wagons by a 875 kW Dr14 B B diesel hydraulic heavy shunter, two of which were kept busy in the yard. This class, with its own unique livery of red with two horizontal white stripes, has one cab sandwiched between short and long bonnets in the usual Finnish style. Behind the hump was a typical small rail-served wood processing plant whose only function appeared to be the conversion of logs into wood shavings, with bark chips and sawdust as by-products. From here we followed a track up the Mielakka Ski Centre hill and 20 minutes later arrived at the top where we had a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and the 13 track sorting sidings full of various types of wagons, with Kouvola's tall buildings behind. One siding contained wagons loaded with combine harvesters, probably from overseas and destined for Russia. Back at the bottom of the hill we continued on a dirt track running alongside the main line, now at a lower level than the reception sidings which have only a few tracks. Eventually we arrived at the triangular junction of the double track line from Kotka (coming in from the south) with the double track west to east main line. This takes the form of two single track curves, one south to west and one south to east, the double track Kotka line becoming two single tracks at the southern junction. Because of the height difference there is no connection from the Kotka line to the reception sidings via the main line.
Instead this is provided by a single track line from the east end of the reception sidings which curves south over the main line on a bridge, runs through a short tunnel and connects with the Kotka line about 1 km south of the triangular junction. Access to the reception sidings from the east is provided by a single track line which joins the main line at the same point as the south to east curve from the Kotka line. The line east of here carries more freight than any other in Finland because it is used by trains from Russia, via the Vainikkala border crossing, as well as domestic trains. Principal traffic flows are oil from Russia, which goes to Kotka and Hamina for export or travels further west to refineries in Finland, and Russian fertiliser which is exported via Kotka.
There is also intensive domestic timber traffic supplemented with timber from Russia (it's as cheap as home grown) which goes to the many pulp and paper mills dotted throughout south-east Finland. Paper and board produced by these mills is also exported via Kotka and Hamina. All this is in addition to the usual wagon load freight trains, which often include some Russian wagons. From here we followed a road which reached the north side of the yard, railway lines passing overhead on a series of bridges. It is possible to scramble up the embankment from the road to get a view into the reception sidings. We then turned west and headed back to Kouvola on a road which runs north of the yard. You can see into the yard at various places and also watch timber being unloaded from Russian wagons for the wood processing plant.
In the evening our good friend Kimmo Kotimäki, a fellow SRS member, had arranged a special treat. He was driving over from Espoo to visit his parents who live near Kouvola, and had arranged to collect us from the hotel and take us to meet them. Their house overlooks the Kouvola - Kontiomäki line so we could watch the trains go past whilst enjoying dinner together. Afterwards we had a tour of the large garden; his mother, like Enid, is a keen gardener. Ironically the garden is likely to be reduced in size when the local level crossing is replaced by a bridge and the road diverted through part of it. On this line there are 98 level crossings between Kouvola and Kuopio alone, of which 59 are unguarded. As part of a national plan these will all be replaced by 2012 because of the unacceptable accident rate.
Next day, Ascension Day, a Bank Holiday in Finland, we visited Hamina by bus. Apparently it is the most Russian looking town in Finland. Hamina port is rail served (freight only) but is situated on a separate spit of land to the town. (However we did manage a distant view, across the water, of some Russian oil tanker wagons being unloaded.) The town centre is laid out to an octagonal plan with the town hall at its centre. Hamina is well worth a visit. It is also a garrison town fondly remembered by many Finns as the place where they completed their compulsory military service. Several soldiers armed with loaded ice-cream cornets joined us on the bus back to Kouvola, a sight guaranteed to strike terror into the enemy.
Kotka was the following day's destination. Again we went by bus but only because there was no train at a convenient time. The town centre is built on an island connected to the mainland by a short causeway. Leaving the bus station we walked straight to the railway station in time to photograph a Dv16 0-8-0 shunting one VR Cargo van and also witnessed the arrival of the 9:14 electric unit from Helsinki which arrives at 12:16. Kotka station is brick built and the platform graced by a plinthed Vr1 0-6-0 shunter (no. 667) built by Hanomag in 1923. It is in reasonable condition and has a bunker full of birch logs.
Trains actually terminate at Kotkan satama (Kotka harbour) about 1 km further down the line and, as the name suggests, it is actually on the quayside. We started to walk there and photographed the electric unit heading back towards Helsinki, its turn round time being a mere 5 minutes. Most other trains are just shuttles from Kouvola. On reaching the station we discovered it consisted of only two bus shelters and a timetable. Adjacent to the station the steam icebreaker Tarmo, built in Newcastle in 1907, is moored. This is the main attraction of the maritime museum. We ate our packed lunch in a small park on top of the cliff overlooking the quay. The Dv16 returned with a train of 14 vans, ran round and propelled them into the Central Port further down the quay, which handles general cargo.
In the afternoon we walked round part of the island on a delightful coastal path past rocky bays and a small beach. Our destination was the Puistola rail-served oil terminal, but when we arrived there was no sign of any rail or ship activity. The other larger rail-connected docks in Kotka are spread around the adjacent peninsulas and islands. Much more than a day would be needed for a full exploration. You could easily spend a few days in the area as there are plenty of other attractions, including the Imperial Fishing Lodge of Tsar Alexander III at Langinkoski. We caught the 16:04 Kouvola train which consisted of an Sr1 plus three Express coaches. All other passenger trains we saw on the Kotka line were Sm1 or Sm2 electric units; these also work local services from Kouvola to Imatra and Mikkeli. As we headed north various lines from the other docks joined the main line and we passed through a freight yard where the Dv16 was pausing between duties. The line was single track until we reached Juurikorpi where the line from Hamina joins.
This line was only opened in the mid 1980s and replaced a line which joined the Kotka line further north at Inkeroinen. Here there are exchange sidings for a large pulp mill and I decided to return to Inkeroinen in the evening. As I arrived on the 17:44 from Kouvola (journey time 16 minutes) an empty timber train was just leaving the exchange sidings. Three freight trains passed before I caught the 19:48 back to Kouvola: a mixed freight going south, and going north a train of VR Cargo vans and another of VR cargo vans and Nordwagons. (These looked tiny next to the VR Cargo vans which make full use of the generous Finnish loading gauge.)
The following morning was spent on the station photographing the two daily passenger trains to Helsinki from Moscow (Tolstoy with green Russian sleepers - 09:10) and St. Petersburg (Repin with blue Russian coaches - 10:12). A pair of Dv12 heading east on a long loaded timber train provided a welcome change from our staple diet of Sr1. So far the weather on holiday had been mixed, mainly sunshine and showers, but it had gradually been getting colder. By now the thermometer on the station was struggling to reach 4 deg C which is much colder than the average for this time of year. We caught the 12:33 Express train (10:26 from Helsinki to Joensuu) to Lappeenranta, our next destination.
Double track continues east as far as Luumäki where the main line splits into two single track lines. One line heads southeast to the main rail border crossing with Russia at Vainikkala. Our train headed northeast on the direct line to Lappeenranta, opened as recently as 1962. Prior to this we would have travelled towards Vainikkala and turned off that line at Simola, then headed north to Lappeenranta on a line now closed (passenger services ceased in 1977.)
Arrival at Lappeenranta was on time at 13:20. The station has recently been converted to a Travel Centre, one of the first in Finland, (22 are planned to be opened by 2005.) Relocating the local bus station to here is the main improvement, along with refurbishing the station building, which now provides information and tickets for both trains and buses. A short taxi ride delivered us to our hotel, another Cumulus, in the town centre about 1.5 km from the station. Lappeenranta, an old spa town, is definitely a holiday destination. It is situated on the southern shore of Lake Saimaa which covers 4,400 sq.km. The town's main attraction, amongst many, is the old fortress, which sits on top of earth ramparts alongside the lake. Most of its buildings have been converted into museums, cafes and craft workshops.
In the evening we walked along the lake shore and out onto a small peninsula named Halkosaari. This is the location of the communal lakeside carpet wash. These can be found throughout Finland, in various guises, but are rarely mentioned in guidebooks. Luckily it was in use. It consists of a large floating raft connected by a bridge to the shore, where there is a giant mangle and drying racks next to a small car park. Metal "dustbins" are sunk into the raft near the water's edge and the carpet cleaner stands in the bin with feet well below water level enabling the carpet to be scrubbed and rinsed without having to bend down. When the bin is not in use a "bin lid" is fitted to prevent it filling up with rainwater. This carpet wash was large, having 20 bins, but Kimmo had shown us a single bin "hamlet" version in the river near his parent's home.
Lake Saimaa (76 m above sea level) is connected to the sea by the eight lock Saimaa Canal which handles 1.6 million tonnes of freight a year. It enters the lake in the outskirts of Lappeenranta and next day we caught a bus there. The main road and railway cross the canal at high level on adjacent bridges so knowing where to get off is not a problem. After looking down on the canal from the road bridge we followed a track which descended to the "tow path" and then along this to the lake before walking back under the bridges and on to the first lock at Mälkiä. The canal is 43 km long (the last 20 km being in Russia); it was opened in 1856 and last modernised in 1965 when the present Mälkiä lock was built. This has the highest lift of any on the canal at 12.7 m. It is 85 m long by 13.2 m wide and replaced a flight of locks whose remains still exist in a pleasant park next to the canal. A small cargo boat, registered in Limasol, was just coming up through the lock and we watched it depart towards the lake. It overtook a moored Russian boat (loaded with pine logs) which was being given a spring-clean by the crew.
In season it is possible to go on a cruise on Lake Saimaa from Lappeenranta or take a boat trip down the canal to Vyborg, now in Russia; no visa is needed but you must book in advance. Packed lunch was eaten just below the railway bridge whilst we waited to photograph two passenger trains, one in each direction, which were scheduled to cross at Lappeenranta station. Both consisted of Express coaches but the Helsinki - Joensuu train had a solitary red commuter coach behind the locomotive - something we saw on several occasions. We caught the bus back into town but alighted before the centre to visit the café at the top of the local water tower (sticky buns recommended.) From the top you can see for miles and it is the best way to get a feel for the scale of the scenery.
Parikkala was our next day's destination on board the 07:02 Helsinki - Joensuu InterCity which calls at Lappeenranta at 09:45. The line east of Lappeenranta was opened to Imatra in 1934 but did not reach Parikkala until 1947. Joensuu was not reached by the current route until 1966. Prior to The Winter War and The Continuation War (both part of WW2), when all Karelia was part of Finland, you could have made this journey via Vainikkala (not then a border station) and Vyborg. From there a line (now in Russia) runs roughly parallel with the present line (and border) to Niirala (now a border crossing) and on to Joensuu. Imatra was originally served by a branch (still open) from this line, whilst Parikkala was originally served by another branch (now closed southeast of Parikkala) from this line. The branch line continues northwest of Parikkala opening to Savonlinna (1908) and beyond to Pieksämäki (1914.) Our train stopped at Joutseno.
On the platform was a crank machine - used to operate points via cables and control the colour light signals. Several small rail-served wood processing plants were passed, all using Russian timber. The wood shavings they produced were loaded into massive bogie box wagons (of which we saw two different types) for onward transportation.
We arrived at Parikkala at 10:59 and I dashed to the end of the station to get a photograph of the connecting shuttle service to Savonlinna which departed promptly at 11:05. It was formed of a Dv12 B B diesel hydraulic with three Express coaches and was the first VR diesel hauled passenger train we had seen on this holiday. The shuttle makes three round trips a day connecting with certain main line trains, buses providing connections for the rest. We had a short walk round Parikkala, which enjoys a lovely lakeside location, and just as we were passing by the station a pair of Dv12 rumbled in from the west. Behind the locomotives were three Express coaches. At first I thought I had mis-read the timetable and missed a "photo opportunity" but the train didn't stop and the reason soon became apparent - it was just a mixed freight train with some empty coaching stock. The good side view of the Dv12s made me realise that one was a 25xx series and the other a 27xx series, the first I had seen. Dv12 were built between 1964 and 1984 and carry numbers in the range 2501-2568, 2601-2664 and 2701-2760. Valmet built all the 26xx series (mainly used in the north) plus all the even numbered locomotives in the other two series, whilst Lokomo built the rest. The difference in size of the exhaust stacks each side of the offset cab is what caught my eye, 27xx examples having much bigger stacks. Like classes Dv15, Dv 16 and Dr14 the stack over the shorter bonnet is only used by a small donkey engine housed within. This drives a small compressor which provides air for the brakes and to start the main engine located in the long bonnet.
From the station we had a 50 minute walk to Siikalahti, one of Finland's most famous bird reserves and a must for any ornithologist. Packed lunch was enjoyed on the open top deck of the bird observation tower but a short violent hailstorm forced us to retreat to the lower deck for a while. We were back at the station in plenty of time to witness one of the frantic spells of activity you see at stations on single track lines. Two Dv12 (the same pair we had seen that morning) arrived and stopped in one of the loop lines heading south with a train of VR Cargo vans and bogie box wagons, shortly followed at 17:51 by the Dv12 shuttle from Savonlinna. At 17:53 the 13:26 Helsinki - Nurmes Express entered the station double headed by a pair of Sr1 and our train from Joensuu, the 16:34 Express to Helsinki, arrived at 17:56. This deposited us back in Lappeenranta at 19:27 so we ate in a McDonalds next to the station to check it was to the same standard as the one in town. Burger establishments can be found all over Finland and the prices are very reasonable. Whilst eating we discussed what we hoped would be the railway highlight of the holiday - tomorrow's trip to Vainikkala.
It is not possible to travel to Vainikkala border station (the only Russian border crossing to have a regular scheduled service) by train from within Finland, even though all cross-border passenger trains stop there. You can board a train there if you are travelling to Russia and alight there if you are travelling from Russia. However there is a bus service from Lappeenranta to Vainikkala (the village is about 1 km from the station) a few of these going via the station to connect with the trains. Some bus services are actually provided by "linja taksi" (an 8 seater MPV taxi.) We caught the 08:40 from the centre of Lappeenranta which runs via the railway station, sorry - Travel Centre, and arrives in Vainikkala in time to connect with the 06:30 Helsinki - St. Petersburg (Sibelius - using dedicated VR blue coaches) which departs at 09:32. On arrival we asked permission to go onto the platforms but were politely refused by the friendly border guards on the security gate in the station building. Once the Sibelius and the Repin (which cross here) had both departed we were allowed onto the fenced-off platforms and the gate locked behind us. A guard said we could take any pictures we liked and made sure we could "escape" via another barrier he opened for us. The station building is modern, most of it offices dealing with freight traffic, but it does contain a restaurant. Instinctively we headed for the east end of the long curving platforms of which there are three, one adjacent to the buildings, with an island platform providing the other two. Looking east we could clearly see the actual border with the single track main line disappearing into the distance and, somewhat nearer, the start of the frontier zone. Next to the platforms and extending further east are extensive sidings full of Russian wagons, some of which were being rearranged by two Dr14 shunters.
Russian wagons are used almost exclusively on cross border trains at Vainikkala and these can end up anywhere in Finland (I have even seen a Russian wagon on the broad gauge at Haparanda in Sweden.) Russian dual voltage (25 kV AC/ 3 kV DC) locomotives work all the cross-border trains here but only enter Finland as far as Vainikkala. Electrified lines in Russia use either of the above systems but the line from Vainikkala to St. Petersburg is 3 kV DC. I'm not sure exactly where the "electrical border" is but suspect it is on the Russian side.
One advantage of a bird watching/trainspotting holiday is that you can often do both at the same time, especially at rural locations. Today was a good example: some whooper swans on a small lake and a red spotted bluethroat in nearby bushes, kept us entertained for about an hour until a green locomotive with three bright red nose stripes slowly appeared in the distance. This was a class VL82 180 ton 110 km/h Bo-Bo+Bo-Bo double unit locomotive - VL in honour of Vladimir Lenin, a keen protagonist of railway electrification. (VL82 is the dual voltage version of the VL80 AC locomotive series dating from the 1960s.) It was hauling a long mixed freight consisting of oil tankers, box wagons and hopper wagons (presumably carrying fertiliser.) These locomotives also work the passenger trains. All the freight trains we saw at Vainikkala were long (typically more than 50 bogie wagons) and pairs of Sr1 were always used on the Finnish side. Fortunately the train came into an empty siding next to the platforms so we were able to get a good close-up photograph. If it had used any other siding it would have disappeared from view long before it was level with us. About 30 minutes later the locomotive reappeared heading east on the Platform Two line hauling a long block train of fertiliser hoppers.
On our way the taxi had crossed a bridge over the line just to the west of the station and as the view had looked promising we decided to pay the bridge a visit. Looking east you could see the full extent of the sidings adjacent to the platforms. We counted 17, all full of Russian wagons, including many oil tankers. Some of the larger tankers had double bogies at each end (eight axles in total.) Most timber was being carried in box wagons with one pair of end doors open so the neatly stacked logs stuck out, though we did see some conventional timber wagons. There was also a fuelling point for the diesel shunters and a siding where coils of steel had been unloaded from wagons for transfer to lorries. Looking west there was a much smaller fan of 7 sidings plus a separate pair of sidings spanned by a container gantry crane. The line from the fuelling point passed under a loco sanding gantry identical to the one at Kouvola. The pattern of operation that day was simple: a train would arrive from Russia and the VL82 would leave it in the east sidings and move straight to the head of a train in the west sidings, returning east after 30 to 60 minutes. Likewise, trains from Finland would be left in the west sidings and the pair of Sr1 would move to the head of a train in the east sidings before eventually departing back west. As we only saw two different VL82 on our trip I can only assume they take their trains a relatively short distance over the border into Russia. During our stay the mixed freight trains from Russia were re-marshalled in the east sidings, whilst trains from Finland (we only saw block oil and fertiliser trains) just had a locomotive change in the west sidings. Between two of the east sidings a high-level walkway, extending the full length of the yard, allows two full block trains worth of tanker wagons' hatches to be inspected. (Judging by the occasional strong smell of oil wafting past the platforms this seems a good idea.) Wagons arriving from Russia are also checked for radio-activity, any suspect wagons being sent straight back. Whilst on the end of the platforms we had noticed a white VR van meet the Russian train at the frontier zone and, sure enough, every time this van departed the station a train would arrive from Russia a few minutes later, the only exception was when a VL82 arrived light engine.
The sole purpose of the container sidings appeared to be for the transfer of containers from VR wagons to Russian ones. Some of these will have a long journey, travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway, taking 12 days to reach Nakhodka (near Vladivostok.) Here the containers, usually empty, continue by boat mainly to South Korea but also to Japan and Hong Kong. There are up to five trains a week Vainikkala - Nakhodka; other container trains run just to Moscow. Loaded containers coming west are mainly destined for the ports of Kotka, Hamina, Hanko and Helsinki for onward shipment to Northern Europe. Some containers carrying electrical goods from Samsung in Korea are unloaded in Kouvola, from where the goods are distributed by road throughout western Russia. Last year at Vainikkala 7.7 million tonnes of freight, mainly timber, oil, gas, fertiliser and consumer goods, crossed the border into Finland. Some 550,000 tonnes passed the other way, chiefly construction materials, farm machinery and consumer goods. Out of this total of 8.35 million tonnes 2.5 million tonnes was transit traffic going directly to and from Finnish ports. These are used in preference to those near St. Petersburg because they are much better equipped and do not ice up as often, thus saving on icebreaker costs. Vainikkala is by far the busiest of Finland's four border crossings with Russia. Plans have been made to double the track between Vainikkala and Luumäki (by building another single track line on a separate alignment to the original) should an increase in traffic warrant it. However, doubling the track further east is dependent on Russian finance. The road bridge had little traffic on it and most of the time all we could hear was the distant tooting of the whistles of the two shunting Dr14, the occasional clunk of knuckle couplers and the rasping of a nearby corncrake, which we never managed to locate. Finally we took a short walk down the dirt road towards the frontier zone to get a better look at the whooper swans. Here we encountered some more polite border guards before we retreated to catch a "proper" bus back to Lappeenranta.
Next day we again caught the 09:45 train east but only as far as Imatra. The present station here is modern with only a single platform at 1st floor level in a building shared with the bus station. Once we had found our way out we walked along the banks of the Vuoksi river (the outlet of Lake Saimaa) to the part-time rapids at Imatrakoski. A hydro-electric power station, built in 1929, diverted the river to a new artificial course and all that remains of the rapids is a desolate and rocky ravine. We had to be content with a walk in the surrounding nature reserve (Kruununpuisto) but on summer evenings and certain nights the sluices in the dam are opened and the rapids temporarily restored to their former glory. Whilst this is happening music by Sibelius is played through loud speakers and at night floodlights (sorry) illuminate the scene to increase the dramatic effect. Before the dam was built the rapids were the main tourist attraction of the area and were often visited by the Russian royal family. They travelled here by train from St. Petersburg, passing through Vyborg to what was then the end of the line at Imatrakoski (Imatra rapids) station, opened 1892. In 1895 the line was extended 7 km to Vuoksensatama on Lake Saimaa via Imatra Tainionkoski. The latter station, now closed, becoming the site of a junction with the more recent Imatra - Parikkala line is across the river from the present, more conveniently located Imatra station. A small freight yard at Imatra Tainionkoski (Imatra T on some maps) deals with cross-border traffic from the non-electrified Imatrakoski line. This line is mainly used for importing Russian timber (2.6 million tonnes last year), some of it in Finnish wagons. It also sees traffic for Imatra Steel whose works are only 6 km from Imatra T. From the works it is only a further 2 km down the line to the Russian border. Rail excursions from Imatra to Russia run on this line in summer but, sadly, can only be used by Finnish nationals. Catching the 13:17 Joensuu - Helsinki InterCity (Imatra 15:26) saw us back in Lappeenranta by 15:59.
That evening I returned to the station for a spot of photography, promising to be back early to help with the packing. Lappeenranta station has the normal three platform arrangement with through sidings beyond the island platform. The furthest track disappeared into a small container terminal. I walked past an old goods shed (on the station side of the line) to the west end of the sidings where a dead Dv12, which performed the daily local trip workings, was coupled (as on previous evenings) behind an Sr1 on a mixed freight waiting to go west. The make-up of this train was quite interesting: a buffer-less Russian wagon was coupled behind the Dv12 both using their SA3 knuckle couplers. There was an Hkba adapter wagon between the Russian wagon and the rest of the train, which consisted of various VR and private owner wagons all with buffers and screw link couplings. An Hkba is just a normal Hkb four wheel stanchion wagon modified by the addition of knuckle couplers at each end. Long freights often need to use several Hkba to accommodate a mix of short rakes of SA3 and screw coupling wagons. When performing this duty Hkba are not normally loaded but they can be seen carrying short containers in the middle of a rake of screw coupling wagons. A freight train arrived heading west and stopped in the sidings. In the middle of the train were three bogie flat wagons each loaded with steel rods from Imatra Steel. Two of these wagons were dark blue SJ ones running on VR bogies and destined for Örebro, the other, belonging to Railship, was running on Railship bogies and bound for Lübeck in Germany. (I read the wagon labels through my binoculars.) These three wagons were heading to Turku for a bogie change before travelling by train ferry (standard gauge) to the appropriate country. Another freight (heading east) arrived and stopped in the sidings. A short while later the train they had all been held for, the 17:02 Helsinki - Joensuu InterCity (Lappeenranta 19:57) arrived.
From the far end of the sidings a branch line turned off towards the town. Twice I had seen the local trip Dv12 coming off the branch with a few vans. I wasn't sure how far this branch was still in use. One arm of it used to run down to a harbour near the fortress but the track there had been recovered. However my map showed another arm continuing further north. My plan to explore the branch was thwarted when I was approached by a VR-Track employee who spoke no English, but was fascinated by the light meter I use when taking photographs. The through sidings at Lappeenranta were being re-laid during our stay and I had taken some pictures of a Plasser and Theurer tamper at work; my new friend was one of the crew. He indicated that I should follow him to the sidings behind the goods shed where the various PW gangs were camped out in a mixture of old converted coaches and modern accommodation units sitting on flat wagons. When the PW gangs are working away from their home depot they take their accommodation with them and live on site. I was escorted to the middle vehicle of three belonging to the tamper gang. This was a converted goods van which serves as a mobile workshop (with a vice made in Sheffield), spares storage area and locker room. The latter also had a table and chairs, dartboard, plus an air pistol range down the corridor. Fortunately another crewmember arrived to practise darts and, as it turned out, his English. I learnt that there are only three tampers in Finland; these are based at Helsinki, Tampere (so that's how it got its name!) and Kouvola where my crew was based. Four people are needed to drive and operate the tamper and two crews are used enabling morning and afternoon shifts to be worked. One crew's living quarters were in an old coach (which also contained a home-made gym) on one side of the workshop but my friends' accommodation was in one of the modern units on the other side. An offer to inspect it and the tamper was not refused. As soon as we entered their "home" shoes were taken off as is customary on entering any home in Finland. The first room was a modern kitchen complete with all mod-cons, a shore supply providing the power. They take it in turns to cook, or alternatively eat in a local restaurant, and prefer this lifestyle to staying in a hotel. A wave of hot air enveloped us when the next door was opened, this was the bathroom and sauna, which was obviously well used. Further down the corridor were four separate bedrooms, the one on the end being bigger as it was also used as an office by the crew chief. Passing back through the workshop, needed as they do all their own running repairs on the tamper, we went outside and took a short walk to where it was stabled. Climbing into the tamper's front cab I was immediately impressed by the control panel which had enough buttons and dials to keep any astronaut amused; sadly my guide's lack of technical English precluded any real explanation. We passed through the engine room, where the diesel engine just drives a large hydraulic pump as everything on the tamper is hydraulically powered, and arrived at the low level middle cab. Here two crewmembers sit and control the tines that tamp the ballast as well as the movement of the actual tamper itself whilst it is at work. The controls were even more impressive than in the front cab, with pedals as well as hand controls. I left the tamper with a new-found respect for the people who operate these amazing machines and managed to get back to the hotel just as Enid was finishing the packing.
Next day we caught the 06:15 Joensuu (Lappeenranta 08:48) InterCity train back to Helsinki (11:34) for a three night stay. In the afternoon a visit was paid to the impressive semi-subterranean Temppeliaukio (Rock Church). The following day was reserved for exploring the short branch line which serves Helsinki's western docks and the Kvaerner Masa shipyard. One of the best times to see any rail activity on this line is mid afternoon. To occupy the morning we had a pleasant walk round the coast, setting off from the quayside Market Square and eating our lunch in Kaivopuisto (Well Park). By now the temperature had crept back to normal and the sun shone for most of the time during our stay in Helsinki. Just past the park we came across the semi-derelict buffer stop which marks the end of the branch. Occasional steel trains to the shipyard have to reverse here to gain entry to it. We walked alongside the single track, but had to retrace our steps when we came to a small swing bridge that is normally left open so small boats can enter an old dock that has been re-developed as a marina. A little further round the coast, almost in the shadow of a passenger liner undergoing a refit in the shipyard, we came to the junction of the line into the actual docks. This single track line crosses a busy dual carriageway before fanning out into sidings and entering the docks complex. Positioning ourselves at the unprotected level crossing we had only a short wait before the crossing bells started clanging. A Dv15 0-8-0 shunter arrived with a short rake of empty stanchion wagons (these seem to double up as container wagons in Finland) and entered the docks. After a few shunting manoeuvres, including one where it paused in the middle of the dual carriageway for a while (much to the amusement of stationary motorists), the Dv15 disappeared out of sight into the docks. Thinking it would be a little while before the shunter headed back to the yard at Pasila with a loaded train we walked to Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu and Etelä Rautatiekatu, two parallel one way streets separated by a cutting in which the docks branch runs. (In effect the cutting is the central reservation of a congested dual carriageway.) Many busy road bridges cross the line allowing traffic from side streets to turn both left and right onto the dual carriageway. Fortunately one was closed for repair but you could still walk across. We waited on it in relative calm away from the traffic and another Dv15 went light engine down the branch to the docks. Eventually this Dv15 returned hauling a long train of containers and disappeared out of sight. It would have run past the old goods sheds (site of a Sunday flea market) and curved north to join the main line just outside Helsinki station. That evening we paid our customary visit to Pasila, the first station out of Helsinki. The station entrance is on a road bridge which gives a good view of the line looking south, especially the tracks which lead to Turku. In the evening the position of the sun is ideal for photography. A Dv15 shunter was marshalling some vintage carriages in the low-level sidings next to the main line and smoke was rising from the adjacent roundhouse. This gave us confidence that a steam excursion we hoped to see the next day would be running.
Kimmo collected us from the hotel next morning and together we visited nature reserves at Nuuksio and Laajalahti before having dinner at his flat at Espoo. He then took us to Espoo station in time to watch the steam train excursion stopping there on its way back to Helsinki from Karjaa. Coal burning Pacific Hr1 1009 pulled into the station almost on time (19:15) hauling one bright red and three bright green vintage carriages with white window panels. The locomotive looked more impressive than the coaches, in its dark green and black livery with headlights ablaze - these powered by a small boiler mounted turbo-generator. After a short stop to detrain a few passengers 1009 set off with one of the crispest exhaust notes I have ever heard. The strangest thing about the stop was the almost total lack of enthusiasts. Kimmo and Enid shared the platform at which the train had stopped with two family groups and I was completely on my own on the opposite platform. We bade Kimmo goodbye and joined the people who were waiting for the next train to Helsinki. It arrived almost full and we just managed to find some seats amongst a throng of teenagers, many in their Sunday best and wearing smart white caps. On previous visits to Finland we had been mystified by every photographers' shop in town having a small display of portraits showing smartly dressed teenagers, all wearing what appeared to be sailors' caps. (Kimmo's mother had finally supplied the answer.) These were not sailors' caps but students' caps. They are presented to students on the successful completion of their studies and each school in Finland holds the presentation ceremony on the same day, which happened to be today. After celebrating with their families the students then go for a "night on the town", hence the full train. By the time we got to Helsinki the train was jammed solid, but the conductress took it all in good part as she valiantly tried to check and sell tickets.
On our way back we passed through Leppävaara, where the station is being rebuilt with extra platforms and converted into a transport interchange. By June 2002 feeder buses will connect with an enhanced commuter train service of 285 trains a day to Helsinki.
Four tracks, shared with InterCity and S220 (Pendolino) trains to Turku, have now been provided between Leppävaara and Helsinki for this service instead of the original two. All the railway construction work looked complete apart from the platforms at Leppävaara - indeed the three extra platforms at Helsinki (17-19) have been in use for some time.
Next day was Sunday. We had an afternoon flight home and as the airport bus leaves from the side of the railway station, just opposite our hotel, there was time for a walk round Töölönlahti, pausing at the new footbridge over the lines just north of the station for a last look at some trains.
This bridge was last rebuilt when the extra tracks to Leppävaara were constructed, but you can still get a good view of the tracks. Some of the latest Sr2 locomotives, which had only just entered traffic, were seen and we both decided we liked the old style VR logo on their sides better than the originals' plain V.
The station's new roof was almost complete but as it only covers half the length of the main line platforms and none of the suburban ones, outdoor photography is still possible.
A new inter-platform subway at the end of the main building is a great improvement, drastically reducing the amount of legwork needed to get between all the platforms.
Finally, we saw two brand new Pendolinos coupled together on a test run. Which reminds me, we haven't travelled on one yet; this must be a good reason for returning to Finland!
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