A VR long-distance train in Inkoo, Uusimaa, on 21 May 2024. Opposition lawmakers have expressed their surprise at a decision to suspend a project aimed at improving wireless connections on trains, the quality of which has been a long-standing source of vexation for rail passengers in Finland. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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A DECISION by Minister of Transport and Communications Lulu Ranne (PS) to suspend a project aimed at assessing and improving internet connections on trains has taken the opposition by surprise.

“It feels odd that they’ve hung up their gloves,” Timo Furuholm (LA), a deputy chairperson of the Parliament’s Transport and Communications Committee, said to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.

“They’re at the same time planning significant investments in rail infrastructure, but they can’t fix this kind of a low-hanging fruit. This is precisely the time to look into the cost of improving signal strength on some sections of the rail network,” he added, referring to the sections between Helsinki and Tampere, and Helsinki and Turku.

Signal strength determines the speed and reliability of internet connections on trains.

Jouni Ovaska (Centre), the chairperson of the Transport and Communications Committee, viewed that the decision to suspend the project is evidence of the minister’s “political indolence”.

“VR, operators and the state have argued about this for years. We’d need additional cell towers between Tampere and Helsinki,” he underscored in an interview with the daily newspaper.

The two opposition legislators said 4.7 million euros would have still been available for the project. Furuholm also told that he was notified of the project suspension last week by the supervisory board of VR.

Improving signal strength on trains, he also argued, is a prerequisite for the objectives of increasing the use of public transport and expanding employment areas.

The speed and quality of wireless connections and data transmission on trains have been a topic of discussion for years. While VR has upgraded the wireless local-area network (wlan) systems on its trains, higher-quality data transmission would require that network operators invest in building new base stations and cell towers along railways, including in remote areas.

In March, the state-owned railway company revealed it has upgraded the internal network on 60 per cent of its long-distance trains, but reminded that the several low-signal-strength areas along the railway network are the biggest technological obstacle to improving the user experience.

The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom) estimated last year that a single base station costs 80–180,000 euros.

Ovaska on Tuesday stated in a press release that the situation will not improve until the ministry successfully initiates negotiations between wireless network equipment makers, network operators and VR.

Also Social Democratic Party lawmakers in the committee voiced their bafflement about the decision to suspend the project, pointing out that it will have an impact particularly on commuters.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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