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Published by membersonly, 2018-05-31 13:19:03


2nd June 2018

BLNI Extra 40 May 2018 – The BLS Central and Northern Finland Freight rail tour
[D31] Finland – The BLS Central and Northern Finland Freight rail tour

I spy, with my little eye; something beginning with T goes the old joke about travelling in Scandinavia,
and it has to be said Finland has a lot of Trees....and lakes. It also has a rail network where around
30% (over 1,700km) is only used for freight except a few lines with limited heritage services in the
peak summer months. Unsurprisingly most of these remain open for the transport of logs in lengthy
rakes from loading points to/from paper mills and then ports for the export of wood or wood-based
products, but a few serve mines or other industries such as steelworks. Finland is isolated from the
rest of the Western European Rail Network except for a crossing from Tornio, nearly 800km north of
Helsinki, to Haparanda in North East Sweden, by rail over 1,000km north of Stockholm, and even then,
transhipment is required as Finland only became an Independent country in 1917, so all lines remain
Russian broad gauge, albeit 1524mm rather than 1520mm.
Setting the scene further, the tour came about following the British based railway holiday company
PTG Tours visiting Finland in July 2017 on an enthusiast tour which included many freight lines, as it
was learnt then that three lengthy lines not covered by that tour were under threat and could in
theory close at short notice. Accordingly, several members hatched a plan that became The Branch
Line Society Central and Northern Finland Freight rail tour over five days from 20 – 24 April which
successfully covered those three, and all but one of the advertised freight lines in an adventurous
itinerary. The tour was run jointly with the Haapamäen Museoveturiyhdistys ry (HMVY) museum
organisation based at Haapamäki, with around 60 participants (mostly members) finding their way to
Jyväskylä for 7 am on Friday 20 April armed with a BLS style and very informative 15-page itinerary

provided by Finland railway historian Roger F. Newman, and the customary excellent map from
Martyn Brailsford. The tour also attracted enthusiasts from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands,
Austria and the Czech Republic, and this, along with a large contingent of Finns, led to a very
international atmosphere.

The composition and some information on the consist was thoughtfully supplied in each coach, with
the BLS coach being at one end of the train. The adjacent coach was meant for Finns, but was rapidly
colonised by the BLS party, which allowed everyone to spread out. Of note was that the heating for
the wooden coaches was by wood fired boilers, with metal pipes (and radiators in the toilets)
conveying the heat around the coaches. This proved extremely efficient, and the cool conditions
outside never made it to the inside of the train.

Freight only track would commence the moment the tour left Jyväskylä on the 217km long line
heading north to Haapajärvi, but the exit route from the city had been realigned in 1964 leaving a
2km stub of the original route serving a Finnish Railways (VR) PW depot, so of course that was our
first calling point. End of line duly reached for our first off train photo stop and it was only 07:10!

The tour locomotive was class Dr13 2343, designed by Alstom with a French look typical of the era. Built as a powerful
passenger locomotive, the diesel had been given no chance to show what it could do on the short stub of the former main line
north of Jyväskylä which ends at buffers some distance beyond the PW depot.

So back to the station for a second departure at 07:40 for any late risers, to head north proper on the
lengthy through route to Haapajärvi. It is only the 164km northern section from Äänekoski that is
threatened with closure as the €1.2 billion modernisation of an enormous wood bio-product mill
47km from Jyväskylä was only given the go-ahead on the condition that the southern part of the line
was electrified. This was completed in 2017 for a planned output of 1.3 million tonnes of paper and
board, along with associated inbound timber.

Off this electrified section are a number of short branches, and two of these were visited. Firstly the
1.5km branch to Suolahti Harbour station which apparently used to be busy in summer with
interchanges to lake cruises, now only used as access to a preservation centre based in the adjacent

The tour has reached the former Suolahti Harbour station (dating from 1898) on the short branch to the lakeside. This was
once the terminus of the railway, onward travel being by lake steamer. Notice the wooden construction typical of Finnish
railway stations.

By coincidence their Dm7 railbuses were also out on a charter the same day, so might this have been
the first time two passenger trains ran simultaneously on the line since it closed on 27th September
1987? The other nearby 3km branch to Valtra serves a tractor factory and some members commented
they had seen some on wagons at Jyväskylä the day before, confirming this line was still in use.

The tour continued north with timings showing that there was a two-hour break at Saarijärvi, during
which a loaded timber train would pass heading south. A few tour participants were tracking this on
a Finnish “Real Time Trains” website called JULIA which displayed line diagrams with details of the
trains superimposed on it, so news quickly spread that it appeared to have stopped mid-section. In
due course our fears were confirmed as we were advised our locomotive had been asked to assist the
stalled freight to the nearest passing loop as it was the only one “available” for a considerable
distance. It was estimated to be around 50-60kms away so it would be some time before we saw our
engine again. Meanwhile the Dm7 rail tour from Suolahti had caught up with us and needed to shunt
to behind our train. Ever alert to a microgricing opportunity, permission was quickly sought for people
off our train to board the Dm7 charter, and most tour participants piled on. After all, it was something
to do….and a chance for those who had never been on one of the elderly DMUs to see what they
were like.

The Keitele Museum at Suolahti special train comprised two Dm7 railcars with an intermediate trailer and is seen at Saarijärvi
prior to permission to board for the shunt move behind the adjacent BLS special being granted. Built by Valmet between 1954
and 1988, 20 out of 197 are preserved.

Shunt duly completed we settled down to wait, the restaurant car
doing good business on beer until the local supermarket was
discovered, at which point sales dropped sharply for some reason.
Meals however were still popular, with the ‘meal of the day’ being
prominently displayed on the counter. Who could resist Ham
Temptation, with beetroot…

Our locomotive returned after exactly three hours, meaning the tour
departed Saarijärvi 2h 40m late. The official advice the next day was
that the loaded timber train had stalled on an incline due to greasy
rails, and even with our loco attached, they struggled to reach the
summit and afterwards never exceeded 35 km/h before arriving in a

Some time was recovered by omitting photo stops, but the tour was still two hours late leaving the
junction station of Haapajävi on the EGTRE listed sparse service east-west passenger line between
Iisalmi and Yllivieska. The tour schedule for the day included a 2.5km long freight branch from
Pyhäsalmi to a copper mine at Pyhäkumpu. After the delay it had been in doubt for pathing reasons
but fortunately was still traversed as it will be closing shortly with its reserves of ore almost exhausted.

The tour reached the car park of the Pyhäkumpu mine which featured an unusual railway exhibit
in the form of a short underground train mounted on a concrete slab.

The time taken to traverse the branch was greatly assisted here, and on many other occasions by
propelling for lengthy distances, this being permitted on Finnish Railways, meaning arrival at 20:32 at
our overnight destination of Iisalmi was 1h 48m late. Those staying at the Golden Dome hotel found
they were in a converted Orthodox church with impressive stained-glass windows in the large,
religiously themed breakfast room.

The Golden Dome hotel in Iisalmi was once an Orthodox church, and the dining area still retains the stained-glass windows and
a religious décor. Although difficult to see from outside, the hotel does in fact have a golden dome. Our arrival cleared up a
mystery for the hotel staff. They couldn’t work out why people from all over Europe were coming on this day – what was the
event? Nobody knew, until they got a phone call to say the special train would be late!

The tour was now around 400km north of Helsinki and with a late spring, deep snow was blanketing
all fields and urban areas without road or pedestrian traffic, but the next two days took the group
even further north. On Saturday 21st we were joined by a few extra track fans, notably including the
German organiser of a number of Finnish Rail tours as it included a line only built in 2009 to serve a
new mine which was after his tours ran. But before we got there, we had the major disappointment
of the trip as the 24km line heading west from Murtomaki to Otanmäki had failed a track inspection
a few days before. At present it only sees limited use to/from the major manufacturer of Finnish
rolling stock and trams, but it will be repaired as a previously closed mineral mine close to the
Transtech oy factory is reopening with an anticipated life of fifteen years. The branch is linked to the
main line by a triangular junction, and as the sleeper problem was further along the line we were
allowed to traverse all three sides, including a 1.4km reversal down the main line back to Murtomaki!!

The view from the cab of the tour locomotive as elderly Russian built electrics 3105 and 3044 pass Murtomaki on a southbound
timber train. Note the lineside photography from the ballast.

The new line to the mine at Talvivaara was a key part of the itinerary, and as mentioned, some people
had come purely to do this line, so it was with considerable concern that the Tour Manager discovered
that the company were objecting to the tour visiting their site, which included the state yard, due to
their interpretation of hazardous chemical regulations. Two days before the tour was due to run a
compromise was agreed for the train to go as far as the level crossing before the complex yard, set

down all passengers and all but one train crew, then proceed to the state yard to run round and return
to the level crossing.
The branch heads east from almost exactly the same point as the Otanmäki branch heads west and
is, coincidentally, also 24km long. It does not feature on Google Maps and was electrified from
opening. As far as is known it had only been visited once previously by a locally organised rail tour.
Two very unfriendly looking security men were present at the level crossing as the empty train set off
for the state yard, complete with one of the Germans video camera in the loco. We joked to him that
his camera was doing more track than he was.

Whilst waiting at the level crossing before the state yard at Talvivaara, the opportunity was taken for a group photograph of
the tour participants.

The BLS Tour may turn out to be the last on the branch as new regulations coming into effect on 1
June this year mean no visits to lines such as this one which serve sites using hazardous chemicals will
be permitted. The branch also has a triangular junction with the main line, so as we were heading
north, of course we took the east to north curve towards our next target - the short branch in the
southern Kajaani suburbs to a paper mill and sleeper recycling plant at Lamminniemi. Showing the
attention to detail taken in the programming, the later visit to a 12km branch to another mineral mine
at Lahnaslampi was after a break in Kajaani allowing time for booking into hotels etc around 6pm. A
much appreciated extra for those who had not visited the area before (which also nicely saved one
loco run round) was to travel all three sides of the triangle north of Kontiomäki en route to
Lahnaslampi as the side used by the passenger services would not have been covered in the initial

Sunday 22nd was mainly taken up with the slow journey over the second threatened line, the 92km
branch from Kontiomäki to Ämmänsaari. But
it needed some serious cooperation from VR
to allow it to happen. We discovered this the
previous evening at Kontiomaki when some
people got talking to a VR driver. He would
normally have gone to Ämmänsaari to collect
a loaded timber train on the day of the tour
but was instead going up overnight (on
overtime) to collect it. If he didn’t our loco
couldn’t run round at Ämmänsaari (or so he
said), so we couldn’t get there. Whew.
Thanks VR!

The railway station (Rautatieasema) in Kajaani is a generously sized wooden building reflecting the importance of this northern
regional centre.

This day was the best weather of the trip with glorious sunshine and no wind, and again showing the
attention to detail by the organisers, 46km up the branch at Hyrynsalmi, the tour stopped north of
the station to reverse through a timber loading loop line between huge piles of timber, which at its
maximum was around 130 metres west of the main running line. This has a bit of history attached as
it was part of the transfer yard built (along with a narrow-gauge railway) by the Nazis in WW2 and
known as “Berliini”. Resuming northwards travel progress was slow with many speed restrictions. At
Pesiökylä we reached the highest point on the VR Network at just 243.76m above sea level and turned
eastwards. Four hours after leaving Kajaani we arrived at Ämmänsaari, where a large crowd had
gathered to greet us. Surprisingly, considering its length and the limited timber loading points seen,

the latest VR Network Statement states this line is to be retained and re-laid, but even so given its
remote location was an excellent yellow or even red, pen addition. Numerous photos, again
surrounded by huge piles of timber were taken during the loco run round, and with the itinerary
advising plinthed steam Tk3 1152 was adjacent to the buffers at the end of the line, it was arranged
for the train to reverse the additional 400 metres to the buffer stops for everyone to have a look. Just
one of several meetings of the buffer stop association, which always seems to meet in crowded
circumstances. The branch contained one more item of interest, as just north of Kontiomäki was a
rusty looking branch heading into the forest. We had permission to visit this, and duly reversed to
take the 2.7km branch to the Laajakangas VR testing station which appears to have been built on the
site of an old Military Base. Not knowing what to expect we arrived to find absolutely nothing based
there and a fan of sidings, some with deliberately included severe reverse curves. It appears this
facility is primarily to test the clearances of new stock produced by the Transtech oy factory at nearby
Otanmäki. Maps suggest the branch at its maximum is now only around 1.5km long, and thick snow
had not been cleared from the tracks after travelling just over 1km.

No sympathy is evident from his fellow photographers as one tour participant disappears up to his thighs in the snow. That
includes the Tour Manager, sensibly attired with gaiters against just such an eventuality.

A HMVY staff member with long arms excavates the snow to free the leg and the trapped shoe, watched by a group of amused

Even so, we were again allowed off the train into deep lineside snow for pictures, but a couple of the
really keen photographers moving further away for that perfect shot promptly disappeared up to
their waists. For one of them extricating himself proved impossible as his shoe was trapped. So, both
leg and shoe needed to be dug out by one of the HMVY staff - using bare hands. In the end it was
amusing, but it wouldn’t have been if he’d hurt himself.

Returning towards Kontiomäki the tour took the north to west avoiding curve for the second time.
This is mainly used by freights from Russia carrying taconite ore pellets to the Raahe steel mill or the
port at Kokkula, both branches to feature the next day.

The tour was now travelling on 160km of passenger track toward Oulu, with your correspondent
enjoying a locomotive cab ride for part of this journey. One oddity seen en route was a group of eight
Estonian registered ballast wagons on an isolated section of track at Pikkarala; do they know they are

The large town of Oulu vied with Pesiökylä as the most northerly point reached by the tour, both
being about 175km away from the Arctic Circle. Monday 23rd saw the beginning of the journey back
south, with snow cover steadily decreasing all day. The original itinerary hoped to include some short
industrial lines around Oulu the previous evening, but these had to be dropped due to driver’s hours
restrictions so the day started with a 2.5km diversion through the substantial freight yards south of
Oulu, followed by the north to west curve at Tuomioja to access the 28km long electrified branch to

The departure indicator at Oulu shows the BLS train departing from platform 1 for Raahe at 07:45. Mus is obviously short for
Museum train. In case you are wondering, Helsingfors is the Swedish name for Helsinki. The two names alternate on the display
as the country is officially bilingual.

The steel works here is the main source of traffic and it has a large loop line surrounding the complex
but this had been refused on safety grounds so we had to make do with the 6km line onwards to the
harbour at Lapaluoto, reaching the quayside alongside an enormous rubber wheeled mobile crane
and steel coil labelled to go to the Ukraine.

The harbour branch at Raahe, with two wagons preventing further progress to the nearby end of line

On returning the west to south curve avoiding Tuomioja was taken, so all those who had not been
here before (note to self here…..) still need the south to north main line between the two junctions.

Continuing via the main line towards Tampere and Helsinki the next major town is Ylivieska from
where the line south towards Seinäjoki has seen a programme of doubling in recent years and the
tour notes pointed out a major straightening of the line between Sievi and Eskola. Opened in 2015
this meant 1.6 km of new track for those who had travelled the line prior to this date. An unexpected
bonus for some!

79km south of Ylivieska is the town of Kokkola, with two distinct port branches each visited part way
as far as level crossings, the first for 5km to just before the port entrance proper and the second to
the old station building at Ykspihlaja (try saying that to a Finn) which lost its passenger services as
long ago as June 1948.

This branch does not have a triangular access, so after reversal at Kokkola the next port of call
[sorry…just can’t help these puns) was the 14km freight only branch to the coast at Alholma, opened
in the 1890’s but only electrified in 2017! There were a few groans on starting to travel the branch
with clear evidence of very recent work on constructing a north to south curve avoiding the need to
reverse at Pännäinen station, and after passing a lengthy freight, the tour continued to a level crossing
just before the end of electrification alongside a large paper mill with a lengthy rake of covered
wagons ready for loading.

The tour having to return to Pännäinen to reverse, our next stop was an unusual one at the closed
station of Kovjoki, with VR permission given for our train to stop on the main line as opposed to the
loop. This meant an IC train was going to be routed around us at 25 km/h while we were away, but
it meant we could detrain directly onto the platform remnants and walk without crossing VR track
through a specially opened gate to reach the adjacent 60cm gauge Nykarleby Jernväg heritage railway
for a short ride behind a preserved steam engine. This 1.9km line is apparently extremely difficult to
reach by public transport and has very limited operating days due to a lack of volunteers so was a very
worthwhile inclusion, especially appreciated since it had not been included in the advertised tour
route and was a bonus made possible due to good booking numbers. 1937 Finnish built 0-4-0T ‘Emma’
took the party on a 13-minute journey to the end of the line beyond the run-round loop, with a 1955
LKM East German built Feld Bahn diesel following behind to drag us back. Unfortunately, this failed
at the far end, so the steam engine had to push the train back before running round and dragging the
diesel and train back to the start.

It is not often a steam engine gets to rescue a failed diesel locomotive, but EMMA is doing just that, and is now ready to depart
for Nykarleby. Only an hour had been allowed for the visit, so the organisers were keen to get back and keep their path down
the main line.

An excellent add-on that really invigorated everyone. Finally, a sprint down the main line to our hotels
in Seinäjoki.

The last day on Tuesday 24th was the highlight for many, including your correspondent, as the tour
was to travel the seriously threatened 112km line from Seinäjoki to Kaskinen as the latest VR Network
Statement confirms it will only be maintained until the end of 2019. It is probably worth mentioning
that two days previously the Tour Manager was summoned to the restaurant car and told that
Kaskinen might not be possible at all due to flooding. Where do you want to go instead? Fortunately,
this proved to be a false alarm as it was an adjacent road under water!

But first we reversed down the main line to the junction with the Haapamaki line to travel the very
separate 3.6 km line through the freight yard, bypassing the station before setting off down the
Kaskinen branch. On the train we were advised that despite numerous modern bonded warehouses
at the ice-free port plus a large pulp mill, there is no regular traffic, indeed the previous train down
the line had been two weeks before. It was also the only line the tour travelled which had jointed
track, so despite speeds along it presently not being restricted to any great degree, it will obviously
need investment before too long. As a consequence, perhaps on the basis that any publicity is good
publicity, the Port Authorities welcomed our special and were happy for us to take the train right to
the buffers on both branches, the warehouse line being the most westerly in Finland and ending a
few metres from the sea. We were also greeted here by the town’s Mayor, his wife subsequently
climbing on board our train and shouting to her husband on departure that he should drive the car
and pick her up when we next stopped! Obviously not yet indoctrinated into the delights of track
bashing, she did exactly that, getting off at the reversal point before we travelled the second branch
to the outer harbour.

The BLS railtour has reached the westernmost point on the Finnish railway network 3.5km beyond Kaskinen station. Beyond
the buffers is the Gulf of Bothnia.

As previously reported in BLNI, this line has a special train once a year in connection with the Kaskinen
Herring Festival (the 2017 date was 7 October) and this and other opportunities to travel on freight
lines in Finland are normally advertised on, but even those who had made

the effort in 2017 were very pleased at nearly 7km of extra track beyond the old station on the two
The tour officially ended on its return to Seinäjoki at 14:36, but with the loco and stock returning
straightaway to Haapamäki via a threatened passenger line, there was an offer to remain on board if
you wished to do so and many did. Others had time to visit the branch to Vaasa and/or head further
south, mopping up the considerable changes to the Helsinki tram system since last year being a
popular option.

The tour ended at Seinäjoki and the diminutive BLS headboard made a rare appearance for the photographers.

Grateful thanks to all concerned in making this idea come to fruition, especially Iain Scotchman of the
BLS, plus Jussi Mäkinen (resplendent in vintage uniform and hat throughout the tour) of HMVY for
liaising with the BLS both before and during the tour.

[D32] Finland - After the tour – Haapamaki, on the cutting edge!
The ECS move from Seinäjoki to Haapamaki was well advertised in advance but only on the trip a few
days before was it suggested that the Steam Park could be opened specially for us to peruse the silent
array of steam engines that once formed part Finland’s steam reserve, for when the “balloon went
up”. However, once the suggestion was made this naturally led to a perusal of your correspondent’s
“things to do in Finland” listing and the 7.25” miniature railway at Haapamaki was noted... although
no detail of its length, configuration or rolling stock was known.... hence the question “can the
miniature railway run?” This was initially met by our Finnish train crew with doubtful head shaking

relating to persistent snow etc, but latterly another most helpful operative on our train made a call
specific to this issue. He came back and said with great emphasis (remember he was 5 days into a BLS
tour!!) that he had told the chap who runs the park “they really want to do it” and solicited an
agreement to at least get a coach out so we could try pushing ourselves around.
On arrival at Haapamaki it was apparent we could stay on the stock for the propelling move right into
the depot so yours truly ran up to the park entrance, emphasised we were coming and we were still
interested in the miniature line. The man looked apprehensive, mentioned the winter, track, ice...
perm that anyway you like but through the medium of mime it was made clear we could gently push
ourselves around so long as we could sit in something that rolled along the rails!

Propelling into the depot at Haapamaki

Ran back to the train, propelled into depot and then led the remaining 7 participants (as some had to
return on the 17:41 to Seinäjoki) to the Park entrance. Our reception was very welcome, we paid our
8 Euros and to our surprise found the train with locomotive running in the station... things were
looking good.

The miniature loco at the steam park is modelled on Dr12 2216, which was the last member of the class to be withdrawn in
1990 and is now part of the Haapamaki main line fleet. Its little brother is ready to depart – but not very far!

But they only took us 50 metres before saying they had not tried the track since the winter snow thaw
and proceeded to propel us back! Things were now not looking good at all... back to plan A... the
gentle coach push. But the coaches were obviously behind the loco and to push them that way around
the circuit meant clearing an innocuous little ridge of ice running the length of the station roof where
snow had fallen and frozen over the winter. Tools! We need tools... there are none... so we plucked
up two handy sharp bits of metal of (still) indeterminate purpose and started hacking away at the
little ridge of ice, initially slicing through it easily, but gradually as the ice ridge widened and deepened
the ice got harder and harder seemingly forged on the anvil of a Finnish winter. So, we obtained a
pointy fence post and started battering the ice while one of the park operatives, getting swept up in
the mission of the moment, picked up a complete road sign and hammered the ice, adding its weight
to the hammer blows.

First the hacking…

…then the pounding to break the iron hard ice covering the track.
The stake started with quite a point on it!

By now the ice was being hacked and pounded by four implements and gradually yielded. An attempt
to brush away the debris simply broke the brush but the operative threw it away and kicked the ice

clear! By concentrating on the flangeways the rails gradually appeared from their winter entombment
and, jumping aboard to add some ballast, we pushed the coach through the ice ridge cutting the
flangeways and clearing the sides by millimetres. Breakthrough! Now working against a tight
schedule four members started pushing three members around the large circuit which has some
steep gradients, bridges and tunnels, observed by the operatives from a grassy bank. To their
amazement we actually covered the entire loop without mishap and they spontaneously broke into
applause as we passed, shouting “Never in April... Never in April”! it was apparently the earliest the
railway had ever run, but we weren’t finished yet. There is a cut-off line inside the circuit, so we threw
the points and forged on. However, this section was ankle deep in forest litter and surrounded by ...
well... forest!

Threading the little used centre chord. Peter clears forest debris from the track while the carriage is man
propelled up the slope.

Some pushed, others snapped branches and others tried clearing the bow wave of leaves, twigs and
dead plants that actually stopped the coach at one point. The operatives watched from their self-
appointed observation spot with increasing incredulity and seeing us finally push the coach back to
the station said they would try it with the locomotive! The train was coupled back together and with
the clock ticking down they gunned it. We charged the gradients and with a bit of banking assistance
made it around the circuit. in fact, the loco more lacked braking force than power and we positively
swept back down into the station on a steep left-hand bend with what could be described as a
“flourish” more akin to a rollercoaster ride. But we had all done the whole track!!

We were now down to 10 minutes before the last train left and the station was perhaps 7 minutes’
walk, so we thanked our newly made friends profusely (they were still repeating “Never in April...
Never in April” with huge grins on their faces) and set off back through reception thanking our host
profusely too. We told him his railway was ready for the summer and fled for the station!

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