Forerunners of the carbon-neutral city – Sweco’s track and railway planning unit involved in Jokeri Light Rail

Bus 550 stops next to the Oulunkylä railway station. A mixed group of people step in and the bus drives forward again. The long crosstown line, i.e. the “Jokeri line,” goes from Itäkeskus to Westend in Espoo. In 2024, this busy bus line will be replaced by Jokeri Light Rail, which can transport more than double the passengers at once, more smoothly and with fewer emissions. Jokeri Light Rail will start to operate between Itäkeskus and Keilaniemi in 2024.

Designing sustainability

The clients of Jokeri Light Rail are the cities of Helsinki and Espoo as well as Helsinki City Transport HKL. In addition to the qualitative and financial aspects, the project’s tendering process focused on companies’ cooperation abilities. When you are building a 25-kilometre-long light rail in the middle of a very busy city, smooth cooperation and careful planning are needed. 

Jokeri Light Rail has been divided into nine planning blocks. Sweco’s experts were selected for the project to be in charge of the entire project’s electric track planning, technical system design and the track and street planning of two of the blocks. The planning area reaches from Oulunkylä to Viikki and it also includes the bus and tram depots located in Roihupelto.

An alliance is urban construction’s teamwork

The path of a forerunner is full of twists and turns and new kinds of challenges. When complete, Jokeri Light Rail will be the second light rail in Finland and the first in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The Tampere tram will be completed before Jokeri Light Rail. In practice, these two projects will be implemented at the same time, and many of the operators are also the same. Sweco is also involved in both projects.

It was decided that Jokeri Light Rail would be implemented as an alliance, as the expansive project required close cooperation of many different parties as well as the development of new operational methods.

“The special part of an alliance project is that the representatives of construction developers are present during the planning stages, in addition to clients and designers. The parties belonging to the alliance will be integrated into a common organisation,” says Olli Haanperä from the City of Helsinki.

This means that the alliance blurs the lines between companies, and the people working with Jokeri Light Rail are more part of the same working community rather than separate operators. The challenges and progress of the project will be discussed around the same table, in shared premises. Together, the project parties have considered ways of making their cooperation more efficient, for example. The tight schedule requires communication and also track plans that are as cost-efficient and easy to build as possible. 

“The alliance has worked brilliantly. Naturally, all the parties have also put in plenty of effort to achieve good cooperation,” says Juha Saarikoski from HKL. 

Urban environment is a challenge to construction

A light rail travelling through an urban environment is, in many ways, a unique project to Sweco people, and the tram would not be completed without the designers’ extensive competence in electrical tracks, technical systems and track and street design.

One part of the planning was to ensure that traffic and transport will go smoothly in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area also when the Jokeri Light Rail is under construction. The jigsaw puzzle of the worksite, diversion routes and other traffic arrangements has required a careful approach and quick reactivity from the designers. Another exceptional thing is that the Jokeri Light Rail is being both built and designed at the same time, in sections. The design work will continue throughout the whole project.  

Sweco’s Annina Mattsson is the Department Manager of track design, and she is in charge of the planning block largely located in the Viikki area. According to Mattsson, the urban environment also sometimes brings surprises. Viikki, for example, is home to university research laboratories and private laboratories with devices that are especially sensitive to vibration. Therefore, the designers have needed to figure out how to build the track so that the worksite or Jokeri Light Rail’s future operations will not cause excessive inconvenience to the laboratories. 

It is true that the urban environment, traffic diversions, the schedule and the resources set challenges to both the designers and the constructors from time to time. However, the people involved are all aware that they are now building something massive and important. The light rail will set the course for the future of track construction.

“This requires us all to exceed ourselves and adopt new things, but it is still wonderful to be a part of this Jokeri Light Rail project,” Mattsson says.

Solutions to future needs

Jokeri Light Rail will start to operate between Itäkeskus in Helsinki and Keilaniemi in Espoo in 2024. The working community born through the alliance will continue working together for a long while, still.

Citizens tired of the traffic diversions and worksites may think about whether the Jokeri Light Rail will really make traffic smoother on the route and why frequently operated buses are not enough. When building a city of the future, the demands of the future need to also be taken into account. The population in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is growing all the time, and even if the buses are able to transport all the willing passengers now, this would hardly be the case in ten years.  

New residential buildings and offices will rise along the light rail’s route. A functional public transport system will enable complementary construction in a wider area.

When the forerunner of the carbon-neutral city is completed, more light rails will be built. Track construction is definitely an industry of the future, and Sweco people are proud to be part of designing more functional and sustainable public transport.