Helsinki harbour rail

The modernisation of harbours was a high priority in many countries at the end of the century. Partly it was a question of changing technology. In Helsinki it also had to do with the growing importance of international trade to the urban economy.

That was in the 1870s. And so when a “suursatama” (translate that as major port or even grand port if you like) was proposed for Helsinki, the City chose Katajanokka. It wasn’s exactly the heart of the city, but it was very close to the old harbour in Eteläsatama, the South Harbour (here’s a webcam). It was also a place to which it was possible to run a railway.

That’s the origin of the tracks that you can still trip over at the Market Square.

About 7 kilometres of railway was built to service the various harbours of Helsinki from the 1890s. It pushed its way from the current Music House site through a chasm of granite to the harbour areas in the west of the Helsinki peninsula, and then looped around the tip (fancy parts of town and all) to Katajanokka. Links were built to Pasila and Sompasaari too.

If you look carefully, you can see this route being dismantled. Some of it, the bits around Kaivopuisto for example, were decommissioned in 1980 already. The Space Left Over After Planning created by the removal of the rails along Merikatu left a strip of wildness for all to enjoy. It was a happy accident of the non-planning of the times and created well-loved dereliction (benign official neglect?) just down from some of the most expensive real-estate in Helsinki, and just up from one of its most popular waterfront promenades. Currently it is being turned into a new park, Meripuisto.

Some locals have noticed the disappearance of the rails, some are nostalgic, some almost upset, some don’t care and some are overjoyed. Wikipedia offers into in English.

Many drivers of cars, for instance, are happy. Not that long ago driving from the southern parts of Helsinki to visit Espoo involved the risk of queueing in severe traffic because of the level crossing to Jätkäsaari (now a discombobulation of roadworks where Eerikinkatu should meet Mechelininkatu).

Actually, there’s loads of material on the railways on the internet. Though much of it is written not so much in English as in Globish, and therefore uses some odd and not always intelligible words.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, is awash with railway facts. Including some curious details about gauge that explain why Finnish trains are so roomy.

More on this story later.

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