Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Helsinki Helsingfors - The Central Railway Station

Date of visit: 21st October 2015

It was drizzling a bit when we arrived at Helsinki Central Railway Station. The drizzle make it impossible for me to just leave my luggage and crossed the road just to have a good looking photo that shows the overall building and its external facade. So, I shared below photo from the Wikipedia knowing that they would not mind if I did, as I have majority referred to their website as a main source for my blog, especially on reliance to the facts of history. As you can see, the travelogue from my blog, circling about the details background of all places that I visited not only for my personal reference but also for those who might be interested to know about the background story of why 1 building stood there and why people listed it as the attraction, worth visited.

Admittedly, only yesterday I came to know that Helsinki Helsingfors means the same thing. Helsinki is in Finnish whilst Helsingfors is in Swedish language, both refer to the name of the city. Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland, in the region of Uusimaa, southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. Helsinki is located about 80 kilometres north of Tallinn, Estonia and 400 km northeast of Stockholm, Sweden. It is 388 km west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Helsinki has a close historical connections with Talinn, Sweden and St Petersburg as what has been explained in my earlier entry on Fortress Suomenlinna.

The word at the back is "Helsingin Paarautatieasema-Helsingfors", the station name

Helsinki Central railway station is a situated in Kluuvi, part of central Helsinki. It has been a focal point of public transport, not only within Finland city but it connects the city with cities across the border. The station is used by approximately 200,000 passengers per day, making it Finland's most visited building. It serves as the point of origin for all trains in the local VR commuter rail network, as well as for a large proportion of long distance trains in Finland. The station also hosts the Rautatientori metro station, which is the busiest station of the Helsinki Metro. On 7 June 2010, the station was officially renamed Helsingin Paarautatieasema-Helsingfors central station. The Finnish transport bureau use "Helsinki C" as a shorthand, and there were erroneous news reports that this shorthand would also be taken into official use. The Turku Central railway station was renamed in a similar manner.

The building was designed by Eliel Saarinen and inaugurated in 1919. It was chosen as one of the world's most beautiful railway stations by BBC in 2013. In 2011, the Monocle magazine ranked Helsinki as the most liveable city in the world in its "Liveable Cities Index 2011". In the Economist Intelligence Unit's August 2015 Liveability survey, assessing the best and worst cities to live in globally, Helsinki placed among the world's top ten cities.

The station is mostly clad in Finnish granite, and its distinguishing features are its clock tower and the two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps, lit at night-time, on either side of the main entrance. Animated characters based on the statues have recently been featured in some major advertising campaigns by Finland's government-owned railway operator, VR. Well, if you ask me, my most favorite area of the station was when we sat inside VR ticket counters. I've been treated well by VR friendly's staff when I encountered some careless attitude that I wrote about it in "Train ride 2015-Helsinki to St Petersburg".

The first railway station in Helsinki was built in 1860, as Finland's first railway between Helsinki and Hameenlinna was opened. The station's plans were drawn by the Swedish architect Carl Albert Edelfelt. However, as the popularity of railways grew, the station turned out to be too small, and a contest was organised in 1904 with the intention of producing plans for a new station. The contest received 21 entries, and was won by Eliel Saarinen, with a pure national romanticist design, which sparked off a vigorous debate about the architecture of major public buildings, with demands for a modern, rational style. Saarinen himself abandoned romanticism altogether and re-designed the station completely. The new design was finished in 1909 and the station was opened in 1919.

The railway station has been renovated occasionally. In the 1960s the underground Asematunneli tunnel was built. The first surveillance cameras in the station hall were installed in the spring of 1968. The first electric train recorded arrived at the station was on 13 January 1969. After testing, regular electric train traffic was started between Helsinki and Kirkkonummi railway station on 26 January 1969.

In 1982, Rautatientori metro station was built under the railway station forecourt as part of the Helsinki Metro construction work. In 2000, a glass roof, which had already been in the original drawings by Eliel Saarinen, was built over the railway station's central platforms, although to a new design. In 2003, the shopping wing Kauppakuja was opened along with a hotel.

There are 19 platforms at the station. Numbers 1–3 are on the east side and serve local trains on the Tikkurila route, their tracks stop short of the main station roof. Numbers 4–11 in the centre of the station are the main platforms for longer-distance trains which stretch down to terminate in front of the main station building, commonly 5–10 serve trains running via Tikkurila to Tampere, St Petersburg and other points north and east, while 11–12 serve express trains via the Espoo line to Turku. Numbers 12–19 are on the west side and serve local trains on the Espoo and Vantaankoski routes, again their tracks stop short of the main station roof. The tracks funnel into separate express and local tracks for both the Espoo and the Tikkurila routes with the express tracks in the middle and the local tracks on the outside, aligning with their respective platforms. This gives 8 principal tracks but there is a 9th, additional express track for the Tikkurila route out through Pasila in the Helsinki suburbs, the first station at which all trains stop, 5 minutes out of Helsinki main station.

Steam locomotives were replaced by diesel in the 1950s on Finnish railways, and in turn the first electric trains were introduced in 1969 till 1970 on the Helsinki local lines; the trains introduced at that time are still in substantial use. Main line trains were then gradually changed over as the electric network was extended over the bulk of the Finnish rail system, including all trains which serve Helsinki. Helsinki station serves as a central hub for Finnish transport. There is a bus station on both sides of the main station building. The Helsinki Metro Rautatientori station is located under the main station building, linked through the Asematunneli pedestrian underpass and underground shopping centre complex, which has entrances in the main hall of the station and at various points in the surrounding city centre streets. The majority of Helsinki's tram routes pass in front of or to the west of the station.

There are two regular bus connections between Helsinki Central railway station and Helsinki-Vantaa airport. One of them is a municipal connection operated by HSL. As an exception for HSL bus lines, the line can only be used for inter-city transport. Once a passenger boards the bus they may only disembark after crossing the border to Vantaa. The other bus connection is a private express bus operated by Finnair. It does not accept HSL tickets.

I hope I would be able to start writing tomorrow about the first city in Russia, that we arrived, i.e. St Petersburg!
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