Tram Life: Kuutonen

September 21, 2014

helsinki_tram_nyc

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
Tram Life 7
Tram Life 8
Tram Life 9
Tram Life 10
Tram Life

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