Finrail Oy is responsible for the management of railway traffic and the smooth running of trains. Traffic is controlled with modern equipment from control centres located throughout Finland.
You can't just walk into a traffic control centre, as they are classified areas and located at the hubs of the main rail lines. But systems expert Jan Hakola from Finrail has promised to tell us and reveal what he can.
Hakola explains that one of the control centres in Helsinki is located in the basement of the Pasila rail yard, with no direct line of sight to the train track itself. At any one time, there are about twenty traffic controllers working at curved control desks in the Pasila centre. At their workstations, they have a large screen with a wide view of the situation and a keyboard and mouse for managing and controlling the systems. Telephones and other devices are used to contact trains or authorities when necessary.
"The train driver mainly accelerates and brakes, but it is the traffic controllers who actually control the trains. They are a bit like air traffic controllers in rail transport. They are in charge of the train routes, i.e. they plan which platforms the trains will arrive at, and take care of emergency situations, such as when a tree falls on the track or a switch breaks down," says Jan Hakola.
In addition to Helsinki, the largest control centres are located in Tampere, Oulu, Joensuu and Kouvola. Finrail employs four hundred traffic controllers working three shifts around Finland.
Jukka Oksanen, Sales Manager of Audico's control systems, talks about a major contract the company signed with the Finnish Transport Agency, now known as Väylävirasto (Väylä) The TMFG (Trafic Management Finland Group) under Väylä consists of Finrail, ITM Finland for road traffic, VTS Finland for maritime traffic and ANS Finland for air navigation.
"The seven-year framework agreement is tied around the control centres' av systems. We will develop and supply the technology required by the customer for the management and control of control room workstations and video walls. The contract also includes the provision of maintenance and servicing, the so-called life-cycle service. We are on site throughout Finland with a very fast response time every day of the year if our help is needed," Oksanen promises.
The first systems have been delivered and installed in Finrail's control centres, with the remaining control centres following in stages. The traffic control centres will use so-called KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) systems. This means that the screens, keyboard and mouse are located on the employee's desk, but the actual computers running the system are located elsewhere. Special solutions are needed to make sure that the picture and sound play and the whole system runs smoothly and seamlessly.
More than half a million train journeys and 82 million passengers travel along the longitudinal and transverse tracks that criss-cross Finland every year. Finrail's main task is to ensure their smooth and safe journeys. VR owns the trains and plans the routes and timetables. Väylä, on the other hand, is responsible for the maintenance of state-owned tracks and the construction of new sections.
Jan Hakola of Finrail says that these are exciting times in rail transport, with all sorts of new plans being considered and the associated technology being developed.
"For example, we are currently working on improving the predictability of train movements. Here, as in many other areas, we are working closely with VR. Train running information is already shared via open data, and this service will be improved and extended in the future."
"It is interesting to note that VR may have competitors in passenger transport in the coming years. There are already other operators and competition on the freight side. In any case, the role and importance of traffic controllers and control centres will only increase in this change. I do believe that train drivers will continue to be needed for a long time to come. Drivers have not just been abandoned on the metro either. Even if automatic control could be technically possible, it is not necessarily profitable," Hakola concludes.
Text by Tom Nyman
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