Tuesday 30 October 2012

Tallinn, Estonia

The Estonian capital, Tallinn, lies 80 kilometres from Helsinki on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Finland.  The two cities are very different, partly as a result of their respective histories during the last century.

Both Finland and Estonia had been part of the Russian empire until the early 20th Century.  Finland declared independence in 1917, Estonia a year later.  However, while Finland remained independent, developing during post-war years as a western economy, Estonia had been annexed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War.  Estonia regained independence in 1991 as the USSR collapsed.

Tallinn is another city with an Olympic connection.  Host city for the 1980 Olympic Games was Moscow, but the sailing events were held in Tallinn.

The public transport network in Tallinn is co-ordinated by the city goverment.  The mediaeval old town, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is more-or-less pedestrianised.  On the streets outside the old city walls, you will find buses, trolleybuses and trams.  Journeys into the centre of Tallinn are generally direct, rather than by feeder services to interchanges.  Information about the public transport network is on the Tallinn website.

When I visited Tallinn in 2008, the buses I found were invariably from Scandinavian manufacturers.  Those used on city services wore a green-based livery.


As well as standard single-deckers, there are plenty of articulated vehicles


Longer-distance bus services, which are not part of the Tallinn city transport system, carry other colour schemes such as this articulated vehicle.

As in many cities I have visited, double-deck buses were used only on sightseeing tours.

Trolleybuses were introduced to Tallinn in 1965, at a time when many western cities were abandoning electric systems in favour of diesel-powered buses.  The trolleybus network operates into the centre of Tallinn from the west and south west of the city.  At the time I visited, many of the trolleybuses were of Eastern European manufacture.  The fleet comprised both standard and articulated vehicles in a blue and white livery.


Some newer trolleybuses were also operating

The tram network comprises four routes operating across the city centre.  At the time of my visit, the entire tram fleet dated from the Communist era.  Most carried a blue-based colour scheme.



A small number of trams were operating in a red and white colour scheme.  These had been acquired second-hand from the German city of Gera.

There were also trams carrying advertising liveries.  In the city centre, trams operate along the streets.  Outside the centre, some parts of the network are on separate reserved track.

A common arrangement in Eastern European cities is for trams to stop in the middle of the street.  Other traffic is prohibited from passing while passengers board and alight.


Low-floor access has been introduced by adding centre sections to some of the trams.


In a bold move by the city council to reduce car use, residents of Tallinn will be able to use the public transport network free of charge from 1st January 2013.  Visitors to Tallinn will still be required to buy tickets to use the transport system, although the Tallinn Card permits unlimited use on Tallinn's bus, trolleybus and tram services.

Friday 26 October 2012

Helsinki, Finland

The city of Helsinki lies on the Gulf of Finland.  Around 600,000 people live in the city itself, while the Helsinki metropolitan area as a whole is home to more than 1.3million, roughly a quarter of the population of Finland as a whole.  Compared to most other European capital cities, Helsinki has a relatively low population density. 

The Finnish capital is another Olympic host city added to this blog - Helsinki hosted the Olympic Games in 1952.

Some of Helsinki's neoclassical architecture may look similar to that found in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, 300km to the east.  That is no coincidence.  Finland was under Russian sovereignty for much of the 19th Century and Helsinki's buildings in that era were influenced by the architecture of St. Petersburg.

As well as a suburban rail network, Helsinki has Finland's only metro system, opened in 1982, and the country's only tram system.  The transport network in Helsinki is co-ordinated by Helsinki Region Transport (HRT/HSL)Trams are operated by HKL, as is the metro.

These articulated vehicles form the backbone of the Helsinki tram fleet.  They were not built with wheelchair access but some (maybe all) have had an additional low-floor section added since I took these photos.  This video demonstrates the manually-operated wheelchair ramps fitted to these trams.

Many displayed just a route number, although some have been modified to enable the destination to be shown.

When a destination is displayed, it is shown in both the Finnish and Swedish languages.  Swedish is the first language of around 5% of the Finnish population.  Helsinki is one of a number of Finnish settlements where both languages are officially recognised.



There are also newer, low-floor trams.  Here is a selection of images:  

The oldest tram I saw on the streets was this one, being used for a private hire.

Bus services run into the centre of Helsinki from districts which are not served by rail, metro or tram.  Otherwise, the bus network operates as feeders to the rail-based routes.  Bus services are planned and tendered by HRT, with several operators running the buses.  All the buses I found were single-deck, mostly standard two-axle vehicles.

Even where a destination is the same in both Finnish and Swedish, it is displayed separately in each language.

As with the trams, not all of the buses displayed destinations.



As well as standard two-axle vehicles, there were also some longer-length three-axle buses operating.



I didn't see any articulated buses in Helsinki while the only double-deckers were open-top vehicles on sightseeing tours.

Images in this post are from my visit to Helsinki in 2008.  They reflect what I found then.  Some of the fleets may have been updated since.