fi VR Tampere Anne Nygard Unsplash

FINLAND: The Ministry of Transport & Communications has awarded national operator VR a public service obligation contract for the provision of loss-making but socially-desirable passenger trains during 2021. The agreement takes into account the drop in ticket revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The €30·6m contract finalised in December runs from January 1 until June 30 2021. There is a €23·6m option covering the period from July 1 to December 31, which can be exercised if parliament allocates a further €11m of funding.

The PSO contract covers commuter and regional services in southern Finland which are operated using Sm2 and Sm4 EMUs, and DMU-operated services on less busy long-distance routes. It also includes overnight trains to and from the north, as well as certain inter-city services which complement the 85% of long-distance trains that VR operates on a commercial basis.

The new contract will see day train services return to pre-pandemic levels. The frequency of night trains will also be increased from the reduced level operated last year, with an emphasis on seasonal holiday traffic when demand is highest.

‘It is great that next year the state will invest in supporting rail transport and maintaining the level of service’, said VR’s Senior Vice-President of Passenger Services Topi Simola. He added that the level of services purchased by the government remained high despite the ‘challenging’ coronavirus situation, and noted that the provision of services on the entire network had been secured.

The start of the new contract marks the formal end of VR’s exclusive right to operate passenger services outside the Helsinki region. This initially ran for 10 years from 2009, and had been extended for a further five years in return for VR committing to rolling stock investment.