VR Transpoint wagons (Photo: VR Group)

FINLAND: National operator VR Group is to discontinue rail freight traffic with Russia ‘in a controlled manner’, the railway’s board decided on April 6.

VR said it aimed to run down traffic as quickly as possible, although it expected that the process would take several months. EU sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine do not currently prevent rail traffic, and the termination of contracts with VR’s domestic customers must therefore be negotiated and carried out as specified in the contracts.

Freight business VR Transpoint has been tasked with drawing up a plan that takes into account the needs of Finland’s security of supply. VR Transpoint transported 37 million tonnes by rail in 2021, with traffic between Finland and Russia accounting for a third of the total.

‘Since the war broke out, the company has been working on an overall assessment that takes into account different stakeholders and the security of supply’, said Topi Simola, Acting President & CEO of VR Group. ‘The assessment has now been completed in this regard. Preparing this decision was a long and difficult process.’

On and off again

Following the Russian attack on Ukraine, the then President & CEO of VR Group, Lauri Sipponen, wrote to the President of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov on March 1 announcing an end to all communication between the companies, excluding that required for cross-border operations.

VR Transpoint subsequently suspended cross-border freight traffic from 12.00 on March 27, although the return of wagons to Russia continued. The jointly-operated Allegro passenger service between Helsinki and St Petersburg was discontinued from March 28.

VR Group then received clarification from UK authorities and banks that sanctions did not apply to its rail freight contracts, and Transpoint resumed the movement of import and export traffic on March 30. The passenger service remains suspended.

Sipponen was dismissed by the VR Group board on April 4; the reason for his departure was not specified, but Chairman Kjell Forsen said it had nothing to do with any decisions regarding Russia or anything possibly illegal.