Finland looks into double tracks to increase capacity
The Finnish infrastructure agency has published a report on the development needs of the north-south railway between Tampere and Oulu. According to the study, constructing double tracks is the best option to increase capacity for passenger and freight traffic. The downside is the expensive price tag of around 1.3 billion euros, a decision still has to be made.
How can travel and transport times be shortened on the Tampere-Oulu line? This issue is addressed in the needs assessment prepared by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA). In the study, the track section has been examined through different sections. There are several capacity deficiencies on several sections of the line, mainly on Tampere – Seinäjoki and Ylivieska – Oulu. No decisions on the construction have been made yet.
Passengers and freight
“The line between Tampere and Oulu is almost 500 kilometres long. There is the most passenger traffic at the southern end of the line and freight traffic at the northern end. The different sections of the track have different needs”, says Erika Helin, traffic system expert at FTIA.
Although the needs are different, the best remedy for the problems is the same, according to the study: double tracks. “There are many bottlenecks in the track section and they will be highlighted if the amount of train traffic increases,” says Helin. Thanks to the dual tracks, for example, encountering trains would not cause mandatory stops.
Staged construction would be worthwhile
The benefits of dual tracks are undeniable, but additional tracks are also expensive to build. It is estimated that the construction of the Tampere – Seinäjoki and Ylivieska – Oulu dual-track sections proposed by the study would cost a total of almost 1.3 billion euros.
However, not everything should be built at once. The potential construction and its costs could be shared over the long term. If this would be done, it would be worthwhile to build shorter double track sections between Tampere’s Lielahti and Ylöjärvi Lakiala and in the north between Oulu and Liminga. These could enhance the use of the existing track, becomes clear from the report.
Additional tracks are also related to the development of more local transport. For example, the third track between Tampere station and Lielahti would support the development of commuter train traffic in the Tampere region. According to the study, the construction of the section between Seinäjoki and Kokkola as a completely double track has been seen as necessary only from the 2050s onwards. The Kokkola – Ylivieska section is already double-track.
The study also examined how to shorten travel times between Tampere and Oulu. The additional tracks would speed up the journeys, even if the track speed limits remain unchanged. “If the Tampere – Seinäjoki and Ylivieska-Oulu routes were built entirely on two tracks and some speeding measures were taken, it would be possible to get to Oulu from Tampere in just over three hours”, says Helin. On the line between Tampere and Oulu, the speed limits are currently 160–200 kilometres per hour for passenger trains and 100 kilometres per hour for freight trains. If speed levels are to be significantly increased, existing lines should be changed.
Straightening the curves in certain railway sections to increase capacity was also investigated. The conclusion is that the construction of curve corrections without double track sections that significantly increase the capacity is not a profitable operation. “Straightening track lines is even more expensive than building additional tracks. In freight transport, transport times can also be shortened by improving the capacity of the tracks”, says Helin.
The FTIA carried out a section of the Tampere – Oulu needs study in interaction with the associations of municipalities and provinces. In the MAL agreement (regional cooperation on land use, housing and transport) for the Oulu region, it has been agreed that further planning will be carried out on the basis of the needs study that has now been completed. This has separate funding of up to five million euros. The infrastructure agency is preparing further planning separately. It is unclear when there will be decided on whether the double tracks will be built.