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Carbon-Neutral City Forerunner – Jokeri Light Rail

In the Jokeri Light Rail project, a 25-kilometre-long light rail was designed and built between Itäkeskus, Helsinki, and Keilaniemi, Espoo. It replaces the busiest bus line 550 in the capital region and transports even more passengers at once, with smoother operations and lower emissions. The operation of the light rail line 15 between Itäkeskus and Keilaniemi begins in October 2023, approximately 8 months ahead of the original target.

The Jokeri Light Rail project was commissioned by the Metropolitan Area Public Transport Ltd. and the cities of Helsinki and Espoo. The project was executed using an alliance model, where the client, designers and builders were integrated into a single organisation. The alliance began its operations during the preliminary and development phases in autumn 2017, and tramway construction work commenced in June 2019. The implementation phase concluded in August 2023, and the project was then handed over to the clients, and the alliance transitioned into a five-year post-responsibility period. 

An alliance is urban construction’s teamwork

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. The tight schedule requires communication and also track plans that are as cost-efficient and easy to build as possible. Sweco’s experts were responsible for the entire electrical rail design, technical systems design and design management for the project. They also handled the rail, street and municipal engineering design for two design sections, extending from Oulunkylä to Viikki. This scope of work included the bus depot and tram depot located in Roihupelto as well.

The path of a forerunner is full of twists and turns and new kinds of challenges. Upon completion, Jokeri Light Rail will be the first light rail in the Helsinki metropolitan area and the second in Finland after Tampere Tram. 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. Designing a unified, high-quality tramway system within the urban landscape demanded an endless amount of coordination, negotiations, intensive design work and excellent project management. Challenges and progress in the project were discussed at a common table in shared facilities. Sweco was also responsible for the entire project’s risk management process, which became particularly crucial when the project had to navigate the effects of both a pandemic and a war.

Urban environment is a challenge to construction

A light rail travelling through an urban environment is, in many ways, a unique project to the people at Sweco, and the tram would not be completed without the designers’ extensive competence in electrical tracks, technical systems and track and street design. Urban surroundings, traffic diversions, schedule and resources posed challenges for both the designers and builders at times. However, the people involved were aware that they were now building something important and significant.

“The Jokeri Light Rail will set the course for the future of track construction. In this project, we created a lot of new guidelines for future light rail projects,” says Outi Toivonen, who serves as the tramway design team leader at Sweco.

Jokeri Light Rail was designed and built simultaneously along the entire 25-kilometre route, so the entire system had to function seamlessly. Part of the design also included ensuring that traffic flows smoothly in the Helsinki metropolitan area during the construction of Jokeri Light Rail. The jigsaw puzzle of the worksite, diversion routes and other traffic arrangements has required a careful approach and quick reactivity from the designers.

Operating in an urban environment has its unique characteristics. Viikki, for example, is home to university research laboratories and private laboratories with devices that are especially sensitive to vibration.  Therefore, the designers had to figure out how to construct the track in a way that wouldn’t cause undue disruption to the laboratories due to the construction site or the operation of Jokeri Light Rail.

“All parties had to stretch themselves and learn new things. That’s what has been great – we have challenged ourselves as designers and grown into collaborative work. I’m sure all of Sweco’s Jokeri Light Rail team members are genuinely proud to have been part of such a fantastic project,” says Erika Mäisti-Hämäläinen, who serves as the Head of the Roads and Areas Department in Helsinki.

Solutions to future needs

When building a city of the future, the demands of the future need to also be taken into account. The population of the metropolitan area is constantly increasing, and the congested bus system would not have been able to carry the growing number of passengers for much longer.  New residential and office buildings are constantly emerging along the Jokeri Light Rail’s route. A functional public transport system will enable complementary construction in a wider area.

Now that the forerunner of a carbon-neutral city is complete, the construction of express tramways continues elsewhere. Sweco is also involved in other light rail projects in the metropolitan area, such as the Kruunusillat alliance and the Kalasatama to Pasila project’s Sörkan spora alliance, as well as in Tampere with the Tramway Alliance, and the new Pirkkala–Linnainmaa alliance. Track construction is definitely an industry of the future, and the people at Sweco are proud to be part of designing more functional and sustainable public transport.

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