SERVICES on Phase 1 of the new light rail network in Tampare, Finland, were launched on August 9, more than four months ahead of schedule and €34m under budget.

Phase 1 runs from Pyynikintori to Hervantajärvi with a branch from University Central Hospital to Sorin Square and a depot at Hervanta. The under-construction Phase 2 will extend the line to the west from Pyynikintori to Lentävänniemi, taking the line to 23km. Phase 2A from Pyynikintori to Santalahti is expected to open in 2023, while Phase 2B (Santalahti - Lentävänniemi), which is awaiting further permits, due to open in 2024. The project was approved in November 2016.

Construction and operation of the railway has been implemented through an alliance model. Tampere Tramway, a company owned by the City of Tampere, was responsible for building the infrastructure, procuring equipment, and arranging the financing for the project. The track, stops and depot were designed and built by the Tramway Alliance, which included the City of Tampere, VR Track, YIT Rakennus, and Pöyry Finland, with Tampere Tramway and the City of Tampere as client parties in the alliance. Tampere Region Public Transport (Nysse) is responsible for organising public transport in the Tampere region, with VR contracted to operate the services and maintain the fleet.

“Sitting at the same table from the development phase has increased trust between all parties involved,” says Tampere Tramway managing director, Mr Pekka Sirviö. “Commitment to common objectives from the outset is key to the success of the project.”

As well as the construction of the light rail line, the Tramway Alliance also undertook a number of parallel projects, including water supply works, cable laying, the renewal of street structures and the construction of new cycle paths. The Alliance was also contracted in 2019 to undertake the renewal of Hämeenkatu, Tampere’s main street, with this finished a year ahead of its scheduled completion in 2022.

“It made sense, both in terms of time and cost, to replace the full pavement at the same time as the tram,” says Mr Mikko Nurminen, director of Tampere’s Urban Environment Service Area. “This has also been the best solution for the city’s residents, even though the long-term street works have put a strain on many people’s daily lives. Piece-by-piece street repairs have been a regular part of life for Hämeenkatu, but now we have managed to improve many things at once, which will mean no further works will be required for a long time.”

The project has been completed €34m below the €300m budget, which included €250m to construct the network and €50m for the parallel projects.

“This is a significant underrun, which will benefit all parties in the alliance,” Nurminen says. “The city benefits both financially and overall because the street works and the water supply works, which should have been carried out regardless, can be carried out concurrently. This is where the alliance model has shown its strengths, and we can say that implementing the tramway in this way was the right decision.”

The line was due to open at the end of 2021, but work on the Hatanpää section was accelerated to allow the full line to open on August 9. “This is an excellent situation for passengers to have the whole tram network in operation at the same time as the upgraded bus line,” says Nysse director of public transport, Mr Mika Periviita. “It will make it easier to plan the whole transport system and finalise the services.”

“The tramway is not only a public transport solution, but also, to a large extent, an urban development project,” says the mayor of Tampere, Mr Lauri Lyly. “In 2014-17, 8500 homes were built in Tampere. Between 2018 and 2021, 15,000 dwellings will be completed. A large proportion of these homes have been built along the tramway route.

“The tramway is part of Tampere’s major transformation to mitigate climate change and increase the share of sustainable transport modes. In addition to the tramway, these include the development of commuter rail services, city bikes, an hourly train service to the capital region and making car traffic flow more smoothly. Tampere, and its city centre, must be accessible by all modes of transport now and in the future.”

Tampere Tramway says strong communication with the community played an important role, with regular updates provided during construction and commissioning. Residents have also had frequent input into the design of the line, including evaluating the LRV’s accessibility measures ahead of manufacturing. They were also given the opportunity to vote on the colour, name and design of the LRVs, as well as the sound of the announcer’s voice.

The LRVs were designed by Idis Design and manufactured by Škoda Transtech in Kajaani, at its Otanmäki plant. 20 LRVs have been delivered for Phase 1. The vehicles are 37.3m-long, 2.65m-wide and 3.6m-high, and weigh 56.8 tonnes without passengers, making them the largest LRVs in the Nordic region.

“The Tampere ForCity Smart Artic was built for Tampere residents in the Kainuu region of Finland,” says Škoda Transtech managing director, Mr Juha Vierros. “We consider it important that the vehicles we supply allow flexible, accessible travel at all times of the year, including with wheelchairs and prams.”

Testing on the line begin in Hervanta in March 2020 with a test LRV imported from Germany. The first Tampere Ratikka LRV was delivered in May 2020 and began testing in July.

A road safety campaign was launched to inform residents on how to interact with and around the light rail network, which will be continued in future. Testing was completed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with passengers required to register to take part in the trial operation due to the high level of interest.

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