Finland may not have giant locomotives and mountain lines completed only after Herculean feats of engineering, but the country certainly has one of Europe’s most self-contained railway systems. Its main passenger line runs from Oulu to the station at Kontiomaki.
The state railways VR run a variety of long distance and regional services. Timetable PDFs can be downloaded from the Juna website.
The city of Oulu is a thriving high-tech hub whose roots lie in wood tar and salmon, but the region remains famous for its fishing and nature. It’s an ideal base for wildlife watching, hiking and biking. It’s also one of the best places to experience traditional Karelian culture, including folk music and dance.
Getting from Oulu to Helsinki takes five hours by train, operated by Finnish Railways (VR). But north-south passenger traffic is on the rise and demand has spiked over recent years.
Long, lengthy freight lines account for the rest of Finland’s rail network and are largely railtour territory. However, these routes face heavy maintenance costs and need a lot of revenue to balance the books. Several are under threat of closure, potentially within the next year or so. This includes the Kontiomaki to Ammansaari line and Jyvaskyla to Haapajarvi stretches. These lines are vitally important to the economy, but their passenger services simply don’t generate enough revenue to justify the investment needed to keep them running.
In the years leading up to the First World War, the Finnish railway system expanded rapidly. Lines were built to meet the needs of industry and population growth, while also reflecting the interests of the Russian Empire. Early lines were constructed in challenging terrain, with swampy regions and moving bridges presenting particular challenges.
The most important passenger line is the Oulu-Kontiomaki line, operated by the Finnish Rail Administration. This line runs from Oulu station to Kontiomaki, a junction of five railway lines in Paltamo municipality. It follows the Oulujärvi river on its way to the city, and skirts one side of Lake Ladoga before reaching Kajaani.
Long distance bus services are safe, comfortable and punctual, with routes all over the country. Modern buses are well equipped with air conditioning and reclining seats, as well as bathrooms and individual power outlets. Ticket prices are reasonable, although specials are often available – look out for the magic words ‘Tarjous’, ‘Tarkoituksen’ or ‘Erikoishinta’.
Finland’s long distance public transport is efficient, comfortable and punctual with routes all over the country. Buses are modern with air conditioning and reclining seats; they include bathrooms and individual power outlets and all have free Wi-Fi. Prices are reasonable; day tickets and season passes are available.
Passenger services are operated by VR and include regional, national and international connections. The railway station is about a ten-minute walk from the city centre, crossing Mannerheiminkatu and Rautatienkatu past the radio hill with its tall legacy masts and towards Lahti Urheilukeskus.
A short branch from a triangular junction west of Lahti leads to this simple platform north of the main line. This may serve trains for special events at the arena, but details can best be sought from event organisers and train operators. There is a halt called Salpausselka, but this is only used for some specials and private trains by preservation societies. Long-distance timetable PDFs are online (click on ”Long-distance” at the top of this page). Local and regional buses operate from a ticket machine or R-kioski along Mannerheiminkatu and Vesijarvenkatu and are a good option for tourists.
The passenger line from Kouvola to Kontiomaki passes through a scenic landscape of fjords and lakes. The line is single-tracked and electrified with a total length of 166.1 kilometres (103.2 mi). The train services are operated by VR Group and run on centralized traffic control. The maximum speed is 140 kilometres per hour (87 mph) in passenger service.
The trains are powered by diesel locomotives and carry passengers in air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats and free power outlets. Some trains are equipped with bathrooms. The line is served by IC and express trains connecting Helsinki and other large centres of population.
Passengers must purchase tickets before boarding. In the Helsinki metropolitan area, tickets can be purchased from station machines or from on-board machines with a conductor. Outside the metropolitan area, tickets can be purchased on regional trains from on-board machines or from on-board staff. Ticket prices vary widely, and specials can be very inexpensive; look for the words Tarjous, Tarjoukset or Saasto on online schedules to find these offers.