Sweco’s track and road designers help make sure that trams will soon also operate in Tampere

The tram in Tampere has been in the works for a long time. In fact, the first time someone suggested a tram system to be built in the city was in 1907. However, the project was forgotten amidst the First World War, and, in the 1920s, buses became the public transport method of choice in Tampere. In the past century, the clanging of trams was not heard in Tampere, although tram transport was brought up several times as a topic of discussion.

Finally, during the first decade of the new millennium, the people in Tampere, a city built on a narrow isthmus, realised that bus traffic alone would not be able to keep up with the transport demands of the city’s quickly growing population.It became evident that bus transport did not have enough space to expand further. Building a tram network became a hot topic again.

Finally, in autumn 2016, champagne bottles were popped open. The members of the Tram Alliance, which plans the tram system in Tampere, had just found out that the city council had approved their development stage plans for the tram, which enabled them to move on to the implementation stage. The construction work for the 15-kilometre tramline was started quickly in Tampere, in late 2016.

This was the first time in more than a hundred years that a brand new tramline system was designed and built in Finland.

Success through cooperation

The City of Tampere decided to implement the project as a two-stage project, where the client, constructors and designers formed a Tram Alliance for the tram’s infrastructure. Sweco’s expert designers were chosen through a tendering process to manage the track, street and urban planning of the Tampere tram. They are also in charge of all technical systems of the tracks, such as the electronic track and safety devices, both on the track and at the depot.

Tarmo Keski-Loppi from Sweco is in charge of the Tram Alliance’s planning management in this project. He says that the alliance differs from the more traditional acquisition model in several ways. The alliance is a collaborative model, where all operators belonging to the alliance make the plans and decisions together. The alliance also uses a “big room”, i.e. a shared base and project premises for the planning work.

In an alliance project, all parties commit to the objectives and the goal budget during the early stages of the project. The objectives are tracked for the project’s entire duration and the bonuses of successful operations as well as the losses following failures are shared fairly among all the parties. Everyone is on the same side in the alliance.

“The Tram Alliance is a working community with a common goal. We are colleagues and we know how to negotiate with each other. We understand each other’s resources and competences and know what we can ask from each other,” Keski-Loppi says.

The tramline development programme’s Project Director Ville-Mikael Tuominen, who represents the City of Tampere in the alliance, says that the Tampere tram is a trailblazer in Finland. Tuominen feels that the companies and experts selected for the alliance needed plenty of courage to start branching out in this new area. All in all, the project is significant to all the project parties, and it is sure to be an interesting learning process. 

From learning to innovations

The project’s construction work is progressing within schedule and it seems likely that the first tram will arrive at its stop on time. However, this has required the participants to have the will to develop both the operations and themselves. When the Tampere tram project was launched, modern tramline competence was in short supply in Finland. And no wonder – it had been more than a hundred years since a new tramline system was being designed and built in the country. 

The design work has required a particularly innovative approach and great cooperation abilities from Sweco people.

They have learned plenty of new things, but they have also been involved in the development of new kinds of track structures, electrical supply and safety devices. The four Finnish seasons have been taken into account in the planning process, and the purpose has been to minimise the challenges caused by winter weather to the trams, for example.

Fitting the tramline and its stops onto existing streets has taken a great deal of work, but has also proven to be a great success. The starting point for the work was that the new tramline should not endanger or hinder the other transport and traffic operations in Tampere. Additionally, when designing the tracks and streets, the dense network of wires and cables in the inner city, the area’s buildings and several other operators and stakeholders had to be taken into account. 

“Cooperation with Sweco people has gone very well. The design team has been highly efficient, responsible and professional,” Tuominen praises. 

In addition to professionalism, the right kind of attitude and motivation are needed. According to Keski-Loppi, it is important to Sweco’s designers that the tramline is designed thoroughly and carefully from the start. The especially great thing about the Tampere tram is that the project offers its makers the chance to leave their handprint on a notable and visible part of the Tampere of the future.

“Of course, we could not copy the tramline system directly from somewhere else. And in any case, we prefer to take part in planning something new and improved,” Keski-Loppi says.

Proactively towards the Tampere of the future

The first part of the tramline will be completed in 2021, and the tram will start its operations. The entire tramline will be taken into use in 2024, when the western part of it, now in its planning stages, will be completed.

The tramline’s construction has naturally gained plenty of attention in Tampere. The further the project has progressed, the more enthusiastic people are to welcome the tram. Credit for this goes to the attention paid to communications and interaction in the project. It helps keep Tampere residents up to date about what is happening in the worksite. All internal and external feedback is answered and reacted to quickly, carefully and with consideration, which helps keep the mailboxes from brimming over with feedback.

The Tampere tram is a proactive measure for the future. The current bus transport will no longer be sufficient for all the Tampere residents. Therefore, the tram will largely enable and also guide the city’s continuing complementary construction.The project’s planning solutions have been based on the principles of sustainable development with regards to financial resources, maintenance and the environment. 

New opportunities always emerge from successful projects. When the tramline now under construction is completed, it is possible that tram construction will continue further in the Tampere region. In these future visions, an additional 30 kilometres of track will be built and the tramline will also expand to Tampere’s neighbouring cities.

In conclusion, although the Tram Alliance still has plenty of work to do and challenges to face in the Tampere region, the future of track construction in the area now seems very bright.