The Locomotive Drivers’ Union of Finland (VML) has announced it will stage a strike in protest of the ownership steering policy of the government.
The strike is set to halt all local, freight and long-distance trains operated by VR and all local trains operated by the Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) between 6pm on Monday, 14 August, and 23.59pm on Tuesday, 15 August.
The only trains not affected by the strike will be the trains operated by VR between Helsinki and Moscow, and Helsinki and St. Petersburg.
The effects of the strike will not be fully felt until Tuesday, 15 August, Tero Palomäki, the chairperson of VML, estimated in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday. “We won’t slam the doors shut and leave the stock as it is, but this will be carried out in a controlled fashion,” he promised.
VML states in a press release that although it is not opposed to opening passenger rail services to competition, it cannot approve of the manner in which the government is intent on “tendering out passenger rail services and destroying national property”. The de-regulation, it stresses, should be carried out in a way that is fair, that is in accordance with the principles in other sectors, and that will result in “the lower fares and improved service quality promised by policy makers”.
Palomäki argued that the proposal would simply replace one monopoly with several monopolies, thus having an adverse impact on the market and contributing to an increase in costs. VML, he added, is especially concerned about the fact that the proposal would grant all railway companies access to the equipment of VR.
“The decision they’ve made is as absurd as it would be to force Finnair to provide a foreign airline access to its fleet and then compete against the airline,” he described to Helsingin Sanomat.
Anne Berner (Centre), the Minister of Transport and Communications, on Wednesday announced that passenger rail services would be opened to competition by mid-2026.
“[The sector] won’t be opened to competition by providing open access to the markets, but by having the state tender out concession contracts that include mandatory and purchased transport services,” she said in news conference.
Any companies eager to enter the markets would thus be obliged to provide services also on unprofitable routes.
Berner on Thursday also voiced her regrets about the impact of the planned strike on rail passengers.
“The objective of de-regulating rail transport is to improve the level of service and raise rail transport’s share of all passenger transport. The growth will also increase the number of jobs in rail transport,” she said in a press release.
VR says it will provide further details of the effects of the strike via Facebook and Twitter. Passengers holding advance tickets for the strike period can either cancel or change the date of the journey at no additional cost. The journeys can only be postponed until 31 October, 2017, however.
VML, in turn, reminds that although the plan is to resume regular operations on Wednesday, the strike may continue to have an impact on rail services and even cause cancellations for a few more days.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Timo Jaakonaho – Lehtikuva