Tram Life: Kuutonen

September 21, 2014

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My version of Helsinki’s tram schematic.

The 6 is an exercise in duplicative service. For pretty much the entirety of its route (the gray line on the map above), with the exception of a few blocks between Hietalahti and Frederikinkatu, it runs in parallel with at least one other service. The 6, like the 4, also has a T variant which extends service to the ferry terminal on Jätkäsaari when there is a ferry leaving or arriving.

At its northeastern extent, the 6 starts in Arabia (the neighborhood in Helsinki, that is, named after the Arabia ceramics company). It runs along with the 8 until Sörnäinen where it then follows the Metro, along with the 7, into the center of town. From there, it continues along with the 3 east-west through Punavuori via Bulevardi where it finally splits off for a brief moment of solitude before meeting up with the 9 shortly after Hietalahti (if it’s a 6T) or simply turning around at the turnback loop in Hietalahti (if it’s not). Before we go on, I’ll talk a little bit about duplicative service and why, in general, it should be avoided. In and of itself, duplicative service adds capacity in the form of more vehicles per hour on a particular segment. Increased capacity isn’t bad, of course, but duplicative service tends to be an unintended product of a radial network attempting to serve every neighborhood with a one-seat-ride to the city center. The reasons for this are fairly evident in that, in a radial network, the closer the services get to the center, the more likely they are to use the same rights of way (due to geographic constraints). This is especially true in tram networks when rights of way require infrastructure expenses like rails and overhead current delivery. On the other hand, many transit networks around the world use well-designed duplicative service to cater to increased demand along select segments. It’s when duplicative service is there because of a desire to give everyone a one-seat-ride to wherever they need to go that it becomes problematic. At that point, it’s a waste of service hours and capacity that could be better-utilized elsewhere.

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Brand new Transtech Artic running as the 6T in front of the Hietalahti shipyards.

Helsinki has, or rather, the citizens of Helsinki have, a problem. They’re distrustful and suspicious of the Metro. Let’s call it Metrophobia. For whatever reason, the average Helsinkiläinen would much rather take a tram to where they need to go than venture into the depths of the earth beneath Helsinki for a quick ride across town. I’m not sure what the reason behind this is. It could be the quagmire that was the initial planning and construction of the Metro, or it could be resentment that Helsinki built such a heavy system when a lighter system could have been built to serve more areas, or it could have been a variety of things. Whatever the reason, it results in leaving much of the considerable capacity of the Metro unused. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not like nobody at all uses the Metro, but it only somewhat approaches full capacity during rush hour and that’s not even on anything close to the shortest headways. I’ve spoken with a number of folks in the Helsinki area about this, and they certainly know that the Metro is quicker, but they consider the trams more “cozy”, or just a more welcoming environment for some reason. In researching this post, I rode the 6 from Arabia into the center of town to observe the ebb and flow of riders over the course of the route. A lot more riders got on than off at Sörnäinen. The 6 has a transfer point to the Metro at Sörnäinen (and it’s where the 6 starts running parallel with the Metro), and I timed the trip from there to the city center at a leisurely 13.5 minutes (which can be easily extended by a few unlucky light cycles). I then took the same trip by Metro, including travel time to and from the platform and average wait time, and it clocked in at 8.5 minutes. That’s a five minute time savings by giving up the one-seat-ride and making a transfer, and that’s not even considering the people who start their trip in Sörnäinen. To be clear, the problem I have here isn’t the alignment of the 6, it’s the fact that people are quicker to wait the five minute average wait time of the 6 in addition to the actual trip time for a grand total of almost 20 minutes to the city center when literally right beneath their feet is a train making the trip in less than half the time. How do we get people to embrace the Metro as the fastest and most reliable mode of transit from northeast to southwest through the center? That’s more a marketing question than a technical one, but a good start would be removing the other options, the current number of which is astonishing. From Sörnäinen to Hakaniemi there are two tram lines following the exact same alignment as the Metro, from Hakaniemi to Kaisaniemi there are essentially five, from Kaisaniemi to Rautatientori three, and from Rautatientori to Kamppi two. That’s a lot of service hours that could be put to much better use on alignments that don’t already have trains four times the length running at less than half the headways at twice the speed on grade-separated right of way right beneath them. Just Sayin’.

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Transtech Artic 6T heading down Bulevardi. I hope those people don’t file a lawsuit against me.

Interestingly, with all the talk of duplicative service above, the 6’s alignment remains largely unchanged after my proposed edits. It provides important mobility as infill service between the Metro stations outside the center, and in many cases it makes more sense to move other service to different corridors to complete the grid. In fact, the only changes that the 6 does undergo in my design is (a) removing the 6/6T distinction (which is no surprise, given how I feel about such things) and changing the terminus from Länsiterminaali in the south to Hernesaari. Hernesaari is currently being built out for more residential space and will shortly be in desperate need of increased transit capacity. This extension will require new rail, but it provides a number of great transfer points for a huge increase in overall mobility. This change is actually one that HSL is planning to do in the future as well, so we have that to look forward to at least.


Tram Life 1
Tram Life 2/3
Tram Life 4
Tram Life 6
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Tram Life 8
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Tram Life 10
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Tram Life: Nelonen

September 12, 2014

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My version of Helsinki’s tram schematic.

Today we’ll be talking about another workhorse of the Helsinki tram system. The highly-utilized and late-running number 4 (nelonen in Finnish) crosses the city in the opposite direction of the Metro. The 4 and 4T are the dark red lines running from northwest to southeast on the map above.

The 4 starts in the outskirts of the city center at Munkkiniemi and heads generally southwest for the entirety of its route, serving the Meilahti Hospital before joining up with the 10 and then the 7 to provide a high-frequency corridor on the northwest side of the city where the Metro is lacking. In the center, the 4 heads down Aleksanterinkatu past Senaatintori until Katajanokka. The 4 continues out to the end of Katajanokka, but when there’s a ferry at Katajanokan Terminaali the 4T operates instead, skipping the end of Katajanokka and instead going straight to the the terminal to shuttle passengers to the city center. The 4 has one transfer point to the Metro at Rautatieasema, the transfer is easy and the walk to the Metro platform is almost entirely underground, protected from the elements.

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The 4 getting in the way of a perfectly good picture.

The 4, along with the 7 and the 10, provide a transportation backbone through the neighborhood of Töölö. Now please bear with me while I make sweeping and offensive generalizations, but there are essentially three areas in Helsinki that young people magnetize to based on their attitudes: Kallio, Punavuori, and Töölö. Each has a very different feel, and essentially every neighborhood in Helsinki can be analyzed as an offshoot of one of those three cultural centers. We talked a bit about Punavuori in the last post, and as the 3 is characteristic of Punavuori, the 4 is characteristic of Töölö. While Punavuori is fashionable and outgoing, Töölö is more reserved and responsible. Where there’s a high-end design store in Punavuori, there’s a dry cleaner or pet store in Töölö. Töölö is the place where people move when they grow up. Much of the 4’s responsibility, in fact, is shuttling the neatly-dressed and -groomed professionals of Töölö into the city for the work day. However, long after Töölö goes to sleep, the 4 keeps running; providing an essential service to the city. While the late-night 3 is a rowdy reminder of Kallio’s attitude and grit, the late-night 4 reminds us that some people are just trying to get home. The 2 and 8 certainly run closer to the heart and soul of Töölö a few blocks west of Mannerheimintie, but the 4 provides a direct shot to the city center so it’s undoubtedly the tram of choice for most Töölö-dwellers.

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Just a 4 looking photogenic as fuck.

The 4 doesn’t have much about it that I would change. It’s overall a pretty solid line that helps provides much-needed mobility in an important corridor through Helsinki. However, one thing I would do is get rid of the distinction between the 4 and 4T. As with most letter distinctions with special scheduling, it’s confusing and does not lend itself to easy and spontaneous mobility. With only 100 or so meters of new track, we could do away with the 4T and simply end the line as a counterclockwise couplet. This end of the line could have a layover at the ferry terminal or could be live-looped, with a preference for the latter to allow for riders coming from the center to get home without waiting through a layover if they live after the terminal. It could then follow the new track to bridge it over to the old 4 terminal and follow the existing rail west back into the city center. That way, both the terminal and the rest of Katajanokka are always served with minimal expense.

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Admittedly I got a little carried away with the long exposure.


Tram Life 1
Tram Life 2/3
Tram Life 4
Tram Life 6
Tram Life 7
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Tram Life 9
Tram Life 10
Tram Life

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My version of Helsinki’s tram schematic.

Today we’ll be covering tram routes 2 and 3, known in Finnish as kakkonen and kolmonen, respectively. The reason for covering both in a single post is because of their unholy union, deeply and seemingly irreversibly rooted in reality. The 2 and 3 make up the grotesque figure-8 on the map above, the dark and light green lines who cross over right at the Central Railway Station.

The 2 and 3 are some of the most-utilized lines in Helsinki. Starting from Kaivopuisto in the southeast, the 2 heads northbound via Kauppatori and utilizes an interlaced track segment in the center to get from Aleksanterinkatu to the Central Railway Station. From there it heads southwest to Kamppi then turns north to serve the entirety of Töölö before finally heading east to its layover. From the layover at Eläintarha it continues east as the 3 which heads south via Kallio, Hakaniemi, and back to the Central Railway Station in the opposite direction before continuing through Punavuori and Ullanlinna where it finishes its tenure as the 3 at Kaivopuisto and continues on as the 2 again. If that’s not confusing enough, imagine trying to figure out which one to take at the Central Railway Station, where the two lines cross: You have the option to take the 2 or 3 in both directions. To make matters worse, when the line was relabeled a few years ago from the 3B/3T to the 2/3, they bafflingly chose to number the line that actually looks like a number 2 on the map 3. Naturally, the line that draws an S on the map is actually the 2. Sigh.

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Outbound 2 on the gauntlet track between Rautatientori and Aleksanterinkatu

The 2/3 is also one of the latest-running lines in the system, continuing to ply Helsinki’s streets until around 02:00. Its continued operation late into the night makes it oft-used by bar- and club-goers as something of a pre-funk venue. The last run of the line is always littered with empty Jaloviina bottles and spilled beer running the length of the coach, and the occasional transient being coaxed back to consciousness by the operator at the end of the run is not a rare sight. In fact, the last part is really not all that uncommon any time of day. I was waiting at the tram stop in mid morning the other day and I witnessed a drunk old man, completely unconscious, sprawled across the platform being dragged by police officers into a waiting ambulance.

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Inbound 3 leaving Porvoonkatu

The 3 is the lifeline of the neighborhood of Punavuori. Punavuori is one of Helsinki’s primary neighborhoods and is the center for a lot of Finnish design shops and cool cafes, and is where the artsy crowd and famous people in Finland spend most of their time. The neighborhood oozes fashion, and the streets of Punavuori are palpably crowded with beautiful and seemingly important people (many of whom are probably legitimately important as well). The 3 runs right through the center of Punavuori along Frederikinkatu and is fundamentally part of the neighborhood’s character.

The meandering path of the 2/3 all but guarantees riders will board and alight somewhere along a relatively straight path. One could certainly get from Kallio to Töölö using the line as a one-seat-ride, but there are at least half a dozen quicker and easier ways to make the same trip. Continuing with the trend of Helsinki failing to utilize the massive investment of the Metro as a high-capacity and extremely frequent means of connecting the northeast quarter of the city to the center and western portions, the 2/3 runs as duplicative service not only to the Metro but to several other tram lines for much of its route. To achieve what I am proposing, first, about 400 meters of new track would need to be laid on Frederikinkatu between Bulevardi and Kamppi. Once laid, the 2 and 3 should be routed as a single line, the 3. The 3 would start near Kaivopuisto at the existing 3’s terminus and continue along the normal routing through Punavuori. Instead of heading into the city center along Bulevardi it would continue straight up Frederikinkatu past the 6’s east-west route to the Kamppi Metro station (both the 6 and the Metro would provide easy transfer points to the city center) where it would meet up with (and follow) the 2’s current right-of-way. Instead of turning south through Kallio the 3 would continue east through Sörnäinen (another Metro transfer point) to finish its route around Hauhon Puisto. These changes, by encouraging riders to make quick and easy transfers, get us closer to completing the grid in Helsinki. In addition to creating a huge mobility asset in the form of a generally north-south connection on the west side of the city center, we free up a considerable amount of service hours by removing duplicative service elsewhere. Those service hours could then be allocated as extra runs on the 9, for example, to make up for less 3 service through Kallio. The current architecture of the tram network (the 2 and 3 included) does essentially nothing to encourage Metro usage. Instead, trams are almost a competitor to the Metro. Since the Metro is already there, has a massive capacity, is entirely grade-separated, and runs extremely reliably and frequently, trams should be focused on getting people to the Metro, not taking them along the same path.


Tram Life 1
Tram Life 2/3
Tram Life 4
Tram Life 6
Tram Life 7
Tram Life 8
Tram Life 9
Tram Life 10
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