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Contact Us! - Reference - Finland - Railway History    

Finnish railways history starts in mid 1800's, in the middle of the Russian period of Finland. Finland was a colony of Sweden until 1809, when it became an 'autonomous' region for the Russia. This rule lasted until in 1917 when the independence was declared.

The Beginnings * Line Expansion period * Rolling Stock * Private Railways * Electrification * Helsinki Area Growth *

 The Beginnings 
In the mid 19th century Finland was very poor and under developed country living out of forestry and farming. 
Much of the Finnish area of Russia was covered with waterways in early 1800s, as elsewhere in Europe. These channels, lakes and rivers served as routes for transportation of the export and import goods. Much of the exports were forest products. Connecting the southern coast with the inland waterways proved to be a challenge and in 1849 Claes Alfred Stjernvall suggested an investigation on "rail track way" between Turkhauta (near Hämeenlinna in Southern Finland) and Helsinki (capital of Finland on the south coast). The track was intended to be 96 kilometers long with one train either way daily. If necessary, there could be more traffic, with double tracks in the middle to allow trains to pass. For a poor country this plan seemed at first appropriate. As with all railways at the time, the initial comparisons with horse and iron horse operations were also here "mandatory". Lars von Haartman continued investigations. After numerous discussions the decision to build an iron horse railway between Hämeenlinna and Helsinki was finally reached in 1857. The railway was opened for traffic in January 31st 1862. As planned, the traffic started with one train each way every day except Sundays. Already in October however, the Sunday train was started to meet the rising demand.

The first line on the Southern Finland charted a way for next expansions and cemented the now problematic eastern 5 ft gauge (1524 mm) instead of the 1435 mm gauge used in many other West European countries.

 Next major extensions for the Rail Network were
  • Hyvinkää - Lahti (West to East) in 1869 and all the way to St Petersburg in 1870 for interconnection with the Zhars rail network. 
  • Hyvinkää - Karjaa - Hanko private railway was completed in 1873.
  • Hämeenlinna to Tampere (South North) and Toijala to Turku (East -West) in 1876, extending the first rail line north and west. 
  • 1882 - 1883 extending the Tampere track all the way to Seinäjoki and Vaasa (to northwest). 
  • 1885: Seinäjoki - Kokkola (northwards)
  • 1886: Kokkola - Oulu (northeast extension of the previous)  
  • 1889: Kouvola - Mikkeli - Kuopio (from east northwards)
  • 1890: Kouvola - Kotka (east midlands to south coast) 
  • 1892 - 1894: Viipuri (now part of Russia) to Joensuu 
  • 1893 - 1895/1897: Tampere to Pori and Rauma 
  • 1896 - 1897: Haapamäki - Jyväskylä - Suonenjoki
  • 1899 - 1903: Helsinki to Turku (southwest coast line)

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 Rolling Stock

At first the rolling stock was formed of 4 engines, 12 coaches and a bunch of freight cars, all built in United Kingdom, but already in 1863 8 more coaches were built at the depot. First locomotives built in Finland, of class A5
, were completed as late as 1874-1875 because  they were manufactured 'when time allowed' from service operations. This method was found iunsatisfactory and the following orders were given to foreign builders such as Sigl, SLM and Hanomag.
For rolling stock maintenance the first building was depot right next to the Helsinki railway station.

Vr1 number 665 somewhere out there     
 Private Railways
Surprisingly to the current monopoly state there were originally also private railways in Finland. So the general railway investment boom followed by bankruptcies spread all the way to Finland as well. The list of private railways is following:
  • Haminan Rautatie (Hamina Railway)
    Completed in 1
    901 and stopped operating in 1915 > sold to VR (Valtionrautatiet, Finnish State Railways). Hamina is located on the Southern coast of Finland, east of Helsinki. The railway owned two Baldwin built 2-6-2T type locomotives, built in 1899 in the U.S.A. 
  • Porvoon - Keravan Rautatie Oy (Porvoo-Kerava Railway Inc.)
    This spur led east of the main track from kerava to the coastal nearby town of Porvoo. Traffic was started in 1874 and stopped operations in 1917 when it was sold to VR. 
  • Raahen Rautatie Oy (Raahe Railway)
    In the northern Finland lead from the coastal town of Raahe to the town of Lappi. Started operations in 1890 and operated until 1926 when it was sold to VR. 
  • Rauman Rautatie (Rauma Railway)
    Had two lines, one from Rauma to Peipohja and another from Kiukainen to Kauttua. Started in 1897 and was again sold to VR in 1950. 
  • Hangon Hyvinkään Rautatie Oy (Hanko Hyvinkaa Railway Inc.)
    The railway line from Hyvinkaa main track all the way to the furthest point in Hanko peninsula this railway was also built with private money. Started in 1873 the railway was bankrupt already in 1875 when it was sold to VR. The line is still operated today by VR-Yhtyma for freight all the way and on the southern part for passenger traffic as well.     

In the 20th century, much of the rolling stock was built in Finland, leading to the quite different style of Finnish rolling stock from the eastern and western railways, although the license building was common. Only today the rolling stock is acquired from the manufacturer who has the best offer for the purpose, balancing the quality and the cost.    


One of the vintage classes, the much used medium-light switcher class Dv16 of VR-Yhtyma was used in deamnding switching work until 2008 (and the very similar calss Dv15 until 2007). Here seen nose cover opened on the hot summers day outside Holiday Inn building at the Helsinki Main station. Picture by Stanislav Voronin 2006. 
Licence Building or Buying the Rolling Stock
To be added next.

Finnish Railroad Electricification
To be added.

 Expansion of the Helsinki Metrolpolitan Railnetwork 
To be added.

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  Finnish reference main page  

Sources: Höyryllä Hämeeseen, Pasilan konepaja 1903 - 2003, the web, other sources       

Created for by John McKey. Pictures by Hannu Luukannel, Hannu Peltola, Ilkka Siissalo, Sanna Siissalo, Stanislav Voronin and John McKey.

 See also these pages! 

Finnish Railroads Main Page, a great place to start browsing this section.   

Finnish railroad organizations and railroad operators have their own pages, as well as the largest operator VR-Yhtyma and a newcomer to the field Junakalusto.

Helsinki Area Railroading
While much of the passenger traffic concentrates around the capital Helsinki, you might be interested in the roster pictures of VR-Yhtyma, Junakalusto and the city of Helsinki operator HKL. HKL operates the metro, buses and narrow gauge trams. 


You might also like to see the Finnish Rolling Stock Classes Page or the Rolling Stock Heritage Classes Page!


The Finnish Infrastructure Page gives you details on the railroad projects of past, present and the future. Finnish Railroad History Page describes the beginnings of Finnish railroading.  

Finnish location is quite challenging for the railroading, the European Union Railroading Page and the Rail Baltica Page shed light to this subject.

Russians in Finland Page brings you some of the exotic Russian models, many still dating back to the Soviet period.

Last but not least, Take a virtual tour with a Finnish heritage locomotive Vr1 / "Chicken". This story was brought to by Hannu Peltola.

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© Railroad Reference 2004 - 2010  -  Created 20.4.2008 John McKey, Updated 7.11.2010 Jon McKey