posted on 22nd Feb 2023 00:53
On 18 January 2023, VR-Yhtymä (VR Group) ordered nine double-decker sleeper cars ("kaksikerroksiset makuuvaunut", where the first word means "double-deck" in plural form, and the second "sleeping cars") and eight double-deck car-carriers ("autovaunut") from Škoda Group.
This comes after the VR Board of Directors announced in December 2022 its decision to procure additional night cars following a tender launched in July 2021. The value of the contract is 50 million EUR and will be executed by the Škoda Group's Finnish plant in Otanmäki (southeast of Oulu), where VR's double-deckers are traditionally produced; the takeover by Škoda Transportation took place in August 2015.
Juha Vierros, President Region North at Škoda Group, adds: "The order from VR is important for us because it increases the volume of orders for our Otanmäki plant. In addition, the comfortable sleeper concept will enable us to establish ourselves in the European market, which is experiencing a new boom in overnight train travel."
We asked him: Does Škoda Transtech also offer these cars (concept) to other European operators? Have you already participated in any tenders? Are there any specific regions involved which you expect? Juha Vierros answered us: "The sleeper trains are becoming more popular throughout European market. We see many opportunities coming and this comfortable and especially high-end quality product is getting a lot of attention from potential customers. We are definitely looking for possibilities to supply this and similar concepts to other customers in Europe. Especially those looking for high quality and comfort.“
Development At VR
The newly ordered sleepers with a top speed of 160 km/h have not yet been assigned an exact class designation, but will follow the previous Class Edm. They are scheduled to start operation by the end of 2025 on the existing night services from Helsinki, Turku and Tampere in the southern part of the country northwards to Oulu, Rovaniemi, Kemijärvi and Kolari. In the trains will also be incorporated the Class Gd double-deck car-carriers with a maximum speed of 160 km/h.
With this order, VR is responding to the growing demand for night transport in Finland in recent years. The operator stated that the number of passengers in this segment has increased by 17 % compared to 2018. However, this needs to be seen in the light of the total number of passengers, where VR carried around:
- 13.6 million passengers in long-distance transport in 2018,
- 14.9 million passengers in 2019,
- 8.1 million passengers in 2020 due to covid,
- 8.5 million passengers in 2021.
In 2022, 13.2 million domestic long-distance train trips were made, this being comparable to 2018. Moreover, the 2022 results were negatively affected by the suspension of long-distance trains to/from Russia and the cessation of operations of the Finnish-Russian operator Allegro since 28 March 2022 on account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
For comparison: in suburban and regional transport, VR transported a total of:
- 73.9 million passengers in 2018,
- 77.9 million passengers in 2019,
- 51.4 million passengers in 2020,
- 46.5 million passengers in 2021 due to covid (so there is a clear downward trend in regional transport compared to long-distance transport).
VR therefore wants to meet the wishes of customers and further improve the travel experience, e. g. to make working and eating in the compartment more comfortable than before. The January 2023 contract also includes an option for up to 30 additional sleepers and 30 car-carriers, which, if confirmed, will allow the replacement of the remaining single-deck sleeper cars ("yksikerroksiset makuuvaunut" in plural, or "yksikerroksinen makuuvaunu" in singular form), which are nearing the end of their useful life at their current age of around 40 years.
In the current timetable, valid until 13 August 2023, VR operates a total of eight pairs of regular night trains: 1x Helsinki - Kemijärvi, 1x Helsinki - Kolari, 2x Helsinki - Oulu, 1x Tampere - Kolari, 2x Tampere - Rovaniemi and 1x Turku - Rovaniemi. In addition, there are several seasonal night services.
When asked whether VR plans any increase in the number of trains and the introduction of new night services in the coming years due to the new carriages, the operator said: „The new rolling stock supplements VR's existing night train service. The news coaches will be operated on current overnight train routes as part of the existing night train compositions.“
A Fleet Of Night Cars
The current fleet of VR night trains (as of February 2023) consists of 80 sleepers. Of these, 30 are single-deck Class CEmt cars, each with 35 berths and a maximum speed of 140 km/h. These come from a batch of originally 115 sleepers, with inventory numbers 24001 - 24115, built between 1978 and 1984, and belong to the large family of VR passenger cars, the first 15 of which were built in 1961 by the German factory of Maschinenfabrik Esslingen. After that, licensed production began in 1964 at the VR Pasila works (in Helsinki) and at Valmet Tampere (no longer involved in railways), and by 1987 more than 600 cars with Minden-Deutz bogies had been built in this way.
They are generally named "siniset vaunut“ (blue cars; the singular is "sininen vaunu") after the original blue-grey paint of their bodyshells. The 26.4 m long cars have a top speed of 120, 140 or 160 km/h, depending on the type, and were intended for long-distance, regional and night trains. Restaurant and generator cars were also built. In recent years, they have been replaced by more modern double-deckers or, earlier, by the Pendolinos (18 Class Sm3 six-car units delivered between 1995 and 2006). The roof of the sleeper cars is higher than that of the other „blue cars“, to allow three beds to fit in the compartments above each other.
The rest of the VR’s night car fleet consists of 50 Class Edm double-decker sleepers with 38 beds each and with a maximum speed of 160 km/h, produced in Otanmäki in 2005 - 06 (20 cars), 2010 - 11 (20 cars) and 2016 - 17 (10 cars). These cars, nicknamed "Edam" among railwaymen, are, like the Class CEmt cars, the car-carriers and the IC double-deckers for daily services, dislocated at the Helsinki-Ilmala depot.
With the delivery of the nine new cars ordered this January, VR will have a total of 59 double-deck sleepers by 2025. If the entire 30-strong option is taken out, that will bring the total to 89. Adding the 30 Class CEmt car-carriers would bring the entire overnight fleet to 119 cars at that point. Of course, VR's goal is to retire obsolete single-deckers that will be approaching the 50-year mark in 2028, so the cumulative number of sleeper cars will decline anyway.
Which brings to mind a comparison: 59 double-deckers, with only slightly higher capacity (38 beds each), represent a much smaller number of cars than the original 115 Class CEmt single-deckers of the 1980s (35 beds each). And we are now in a period characterised as favourable for the development of overnight rail travel, so there is certainly room for the railway to develop its offer here.
A Fleet Of Car-Carriers
VR also has 33 double-deck car-carriers for its night trains. These are represented both by 18 four-axle Class Gfot cars with non-covered upper deck (built by VR between 1974 and 1984) and 15 two-part, fully covered, also four-axle Class Gd cars, which were ordered from Talgo Oy in 2003 and delivered between late 2003 and 2005 as the Class Hccmqqr. They have inventory numbers 445001 - 445015 and a maximum speed of 160 km/h. In 2013 they were redesignated to the Class Gd.
Thus, the age ratio is even more unfavourable for the car-carriers than for the sleepers, as the 20-year-old Class Gd cars are outnumbered by the 40+ year old Class Gfot cars. If the eight Class Gd cars ordered this January are added to this current fleet, the latter will total 41 car-carriers in 2025. However, a more significant rejuvenation would only be achieved if the 30-strong option is confirmed, which would bring the number of Class Gd cars to 53 compared to 18 for the Class Gfot, which will also be phased out.
Jaromír Pernička in cooperation with VR and Škoda Transtech
1) A stylized image of a sleeper train in an aurora borealis landscape shows that the new car-carriers will have the same bodyshells profile as the sleeper cars.
2 + 3) The compartments are designed to resemble hotel rooms. All of them are equipped with a toilet, some of them have their own shower. Families with children can make use of the special family compartments, which can accommodate a baby cot. In addition to comfort, special attention is paid to soundproofing.
4) The new Class Gd car-carriers will again be two-section cars with sealed gangway bellows, where each car section has two single-axle bogies. The length of the loading area in the upper deck is 30.0 m and in the lower deck 30.2 m long. The maximum weight of a single transported car is 3 t. The main technical specifications of the new car-carriers will be the same as for the Class Gd cars built in Otanmäki earlier.
5) This photo taken on 21 June 2012 shows the night service 263 Helsinki - Kolari near Tuusula, north of Helsinki. The train consists of 12 "blue" carriages, with two Gfot and one Gd car-carriers at the end. At the front is the Sr1 3066 from a 111-strong batch which was produced at NEVZ between 1973 and 1996 and earned the nickname "siperian susi" in Finland. The top speed is only 140 km/h, which is inadequate for today's expresses, and the advanced age of these locomotives is already showing. Therefore, they have been replaced by the Class Sr2 (Lok 2000) locomotives as far as possible (facilitated by the introduction of the Class Edo driving trailers), and now the Class Sr3 Vectrons have joined the process, of which VR has 80 on order, with 42 in Finland as of February 2023.
6) The situation after the arrival of the night service in Turku on 11 September 2016. While the locomotive Sr2 3206 with the sleeping cars is standing on the left, on the right the unloading of cars from two Class Gd car-carriers (ex-Hccmqqr) has finished. These cars have a maximum speed of 160 km/h, a length over the buffers of 31,600 mm, a net weight of 44 t and a maximum axle-load of 20 t, which corresponds to the permitted loading weight of 36 t, as 12 car spaces are available, six on each deck, with a maximum weight of each car of 3 t. The car-carriers are equipped with power sockets to supply the cars transported to allow the use of additional electric heaters, as is common in the Nordic countries.
7) VR also operates these older Class Gfot double-deck car-carriers, which feature an uncovered upper deck; the photo was taken on 2 August 2015 at Kolari station in Lapland (and near the border with Sweden) after an arrival of a train from Helsinki. Ten cars can be loaded into this four-axle wagon, five on each deck. Additional electric heaters can also be used here to prevent passengers spending sometimes half a day waiting for their cars to thaw out after the journey.