MBTA Rail Vision’s “Peer Systems Review”: Adding Helsinki to the mix

The day before Thanksgiving, while I was already away and visiting with family, the MBTA Rail Vision team published their Peer Systems Review paper, describing a number of domestic and international commuter rail systems with detailed statistics about their service area, costs, and demographics. I was of course put out that they didn’t include Helsinki, so to remedy that, I’m presenting the same data in the same format. I unfortunately don’t have the GIS setup or databases to answer some of the questions at the same level of detail, and all the caveats in the original paper for international agency statistics apply equally to Helsinki.


Helsingin Seudun Liikenne -kuntayhtymä (HSL, Helsinki Regional Transport Authority in English) is responsible for coordinating transit service, fares, and schedules in the nine municipalities of Helsinki Region (which includes, in addition to Helsinki itself, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen, Kerava, Kirkkonummi, Sipoo, Siuntio, and Tuusula). Most have historic CBDs, of which Helsinki’s is the largest in terms of both resident population and employment.

HSL operates no service of its own, but contracts with private and public operators to provide bus, metro, tram, commuter rail, and ferry services; operating subsidies come from the member municipalities and the Finnish state. VR Group currently has a monopoly on regional and intercity passenger rail service and operates the commuter rail service for HSL, some parts of which are substantially integrated with intercity service; commuter rail service is being put to public tender for the first time, with the new operator contract to start in 2021. A €1 billion project to construct a new, primarily underground rail connector to Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport opened in July, 2015.

Unless otherwise stated, information sourced to HSL/HRT comes from the 2017 Annual Report

Demographics and land use

Information HSL/HRT source MBTA commuter rail HSL/HRT commuter rail
Major City Served N/A Boston Helsinki
Population within 1 Mile of Stations N/A 1,716,012 N/A
Name of UZA N/A Boston, MA-NH-RI Helsinki
Size of UZA (sq. miles) OECD 1,873 291 (2,452)1
Population of UZA OECD 4,181,019 1,041,177 (1,498,050)1
Jobs in area OECD 2,677,320 780,252
Average Wage in Area OECD $64,080 $42,7652
Time spent in congestion TomTom 29 min 27 min
Major Geographic Features Maps Boston Harbor, Charles River Baltic Sea; numerous bays, inlets, rivers, and lakes
Mode Split (Drove Alone) Deloitte 67% 39%3
Mode Split (Transit) Delotte 13% 30%3

1OECD “city area” shown; metropolitan area data in parentheses.

2OECD average wage for entire country, conversion on PPP basis in 2015 US dollars as supplied by OECD. Regional average is believed higher.

3Deloitte Mobility Index includes the four core municipalities of the Helsinki Region: Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen.

System Characteristics

Information HSL/HRT source MBTA commuter rail HSL/HRT commuter rail
Number of Lines HSL/HRT system map 14 4 (14 service patterns)4
Length of Longest Line (miles) Wikipedia 63 approx. 30
Number of Route Miles junakalusto.fi 388 625
Number of Track Miles N/A 697 N/A
Number of Stations system map 138 506
Percent Stations That are Accessible N/A 75% N/A7
Annual Unlinked Trips HSL/HRT 33,830,904 64,800,000
Percent of Agency Unlinked Trips HSL/HRT 8% 17.3%
Number of Central Terminals System Map 2 1
Central Terminals in Relation to CBD System Map Both in CBD In CBD
On-Time Performance (System-Wide) N/A 89% (2017) N/A8
Peak Line Frequency (Most Frequent/Other) Schedules 20 minutes / 25–50 minutes 5 minutes / 30 minutes9
Off-Peak Line Frequency (Most Frequent/Other) Schedules 40 minutes / 1–2 hours 10 minutes / 60 minutes9

4The four rail lines are the Coast line, the Airport Ring Line, the main line, and the Lahti line. These lines are served by a variety of local, express, short-turn, and skip-stop services; two services provide counter-rotating local service on the 30-mile-long Airport Ring Line. Three services on the main line and one service on the Lahti line are operated substantial distances outside the HSL region by VR on its own account, and one service on the Lahti line is included in HSL system maps and timetables but is entirely outside the HSL region.

5This figure appears to include only services operated using class Sm5 low-floor EMU rolling stock, leased by HSL from Junakalusto Oy.

6Excludes 20 more regional and intercity stations outside the HSL district served by R, T, D, G, and Z trains operated by VR.

7No information about station accessibility is available; however, all stations within the HSL district are served by at least one route using class Sm4 or class Sm5 low-floor EMUs.

8No information about on-time performance is published. However, published service reliability (percent of trips operated out of scheduled trips) exceeded 99.3% in 2017, short of HSL’s service reliability goal of 99.59%.

9Comparison is difficult because of the numerous service patterns operated on the four lines; at some major stations, local, express, and short-turn trains all arrive at the same time. All commuter trains stop at Pasila station, about 32 trains per hour peak and 12 trains per hour late night. Some distant stations have peak-only service.

Operating Characteristics

Information HSL/HRT source MBTA commuter rail HSL/HRT commuter rail
Annual Operating Expenses HSL/HRT $403,654,786 $797,160,00010,11
Farebox Revenues HSL/HRT $198,331,440 $439,971,00010,11
Farebox Recovery HSL/HRT 49.1% 55.2%
Fare Range (Single One-Way Trip) HSL/HRT
fare schedule
$2.25 – $12.50 $3.57 – $8.8610,12
Operating Expenses per Vehicle Revenue Mile N/A $17.15 N/A13
Operating Expenses per Unlinked Passenger Trip HSL/HRT (derived) $11.93 $2.1610,11

10Converted at a rate of €1.00 = $1.23.

11Figures for entire HSL system, including bus, metro, tram, commuter rail, and ferry. As HSL owns no vehicles itself, operating costs include contracted service operators’ costs of capital and depreciation, as well as the cost of leasing commuter-rail trains from Junakalusto Oy.

12HSL has three geographic fare zones and fares are independent of mode (except for Helsinki trams). Fares shown are for single-use one-way tickets purchased at a ticket vending machine; lower prices apply for tickets purchased through a mobile app or from an on-board automated fare validator using a stored-value Travel Card.

13HSL reports operating expense per passenger kilometer as approximately €0.12 for the commuter rail, on par with the Helsinki Metro and significantly cheaper than bus, tram, and ferry services. In comparable US units, this would be $0.24 per passenger mile. As described in note 11 above, this includes a substantial amount of what in the US would be classified as capital costs.

Fleet Characteristics

Information HSL/HRT source MBTA commuter rail HSL/HRT commuter rail
Fleet Operator (Name, Internal/External) HSL/HRT External (Keolis) External (VR Group)
Number of Vehicles in Fleet HSL/HRT 480 11714
Percent Spare Vehicles N/A 12.3% N/A
Average Vehicle Age (Years) Wikipedia 23.0 515
Power Source(s) Stadler Rail Diesel 25 kV 50 Hz overhead catenary
Seated Capacity of Trains (Approximate) Stadler Rail 800 52016

14Includes both Junakalusto Oy-owned class Sm5 EMUs leased to HSL and VR Group-owned equipment (primarily class Sm4 EMUs) used on HSL services under contract.

15Class Sm5 EMUs only, built 2008–2017.

16On a typical peak-period train consisting of two class Sm5 EMUs with 260 seats each. Of the total, 232 seats are fixed and an additional 26 folding seats are shared with wheelchair bays and standing room. The class Sm5 is capable of operating in three-unit consists but passenger demand does not currently justify it.

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