Excuse me, Finnish Railways

Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 0:47 | Posted in Finland, railways, smoking | 3 Comments

I have not traveled on rail in Finland for several years. In fact, I have not traveled within Finland at all because there would have to be a very good reason to visit any place in Finland other than Helsinki. On Saturday I have a reason to take a train to Turku: the annual congress of the Association of Estonians in Finland.

So I am going to take a train to Turku on Saturday morning. I had a look at the web site of Finnish Railways. I discovered that all morning trains to Turku are Inter City 2 trains. Inter City 2 trains are the only ones without a smoking cabin. Smoking is totally prohibited on board those trains.

In the FAQs there is a question about the missing smoking cabins. The answer goes in the lines of environmental concerns, a general tendency to non smoking and smokers being a minority of rail travelers. There is also a statement that the traveling times are allegedly not too long for anybody to refrain from smoking. The tone of the answer is utterly patronizing.

Excuse me, dear Railways, but I think I know better than you do, how often I have a physical need to smoke. Having smoked for 38 years and having suffered the pain when trying to quit, I would say that 1 hour and 45 minutes is a long time. Long enough to cause me physical symptoms.

Excuse me, dear Railways, since when is your business strategy based on health and environmental propaganda? I was stupid enough to think that your business was transporting passengers and serving all of them on equal terms. I was also stupid enough to think that even a minority of your travelers are paying customers who have the right to expect being served on your trains.

Your decision to have smoking cabins on all other train categories except Inter City 2 would require that a client had something of a choice between categories. I would be happy to travel an hour earlier if I could avoid an Inter City 2 train although I really do not accept that those particular trains are an exception to your policy of having smoking cabins on board. The decision must have been made by a health fascist who never smoked in their life.

Luckily, the return trains to Helsinki in the afternoon and early evening are other than Inter City 2. I do not mind that the journey takes 15 minutes longer as long as I have access to a smoking cabin.

Superfast cashing in

Wednesday, February 7, 2007 at 15:15 | Posted in Estonia, Finland, Germany, helsinki, traffic | 2 Comments
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As I wrote on Friday morning, I needed to travel to Tallinn over the day to renew my press credentials. There are some issues about that particular journey that I have written about in my other blogs but not as yet in English. It was a particulary exhausting journey so I needed a few days to recover.

Obtaining tickets was the first thing to do. I started to sort out the schedules the first thing last Wednesday as soon as I received a mail from the Estonian Journalist Union that the appointment needed to take place on Friday rather than this Monday or Tuesday. I concluded that Tallink’s Superfast with departure at 8.30 a.m. and arrival in Tallinn at 11 a.m. would allow me to take care of my banking, shopping and most importantly the press cards. I would have to be back in Tallinn harbor at 4 p.m. for a departure at 4.30.

Tallink’s web site offered a day cruise for 30 € which I regarded as acceptable. Much to my astonishment, though, that particular ticket was not purchaseable through the web. I could have been able to buy a regular return ticket for 53 €. I thought that was a bit too much even for a boat promising to cross the gulf in two hours and a half so I went to Tallink’s ticket office in central Helsinki on Thursday.

The sales lady explained to me that the day ticket can not be bought through the web because it is a campaign product. I did not care to ask back how come something could be a campaign product which is being sold on a regular basis. Instead, it crossed my mind to ask if Tallink had any sort of press discount.

As it turned out, holders of a valid press card were allowed 50 % of a regular ticket which sounded fine for me. My press cards were still valid for a few days, so I did not have to pay 53 € nor even 30 € but 26,50 €. At that point I was pretty happy.

The journey itself proofed out to be less than satisfactory although Tallink personnel on board and on both shores of the gulf were no doubt doing the best they could under the circumstances. Superfast is basically a car ferry and its basic purpose is to serve travellers with cars between Helsinki and Rostock. The departure to Tallinn has been added for cost reasons: it is better that the ferry brings in some revenue to the owner instead of just lying in the harbor of Helsinki.

The journey between Finland and Germany takes 25 hours which is why practically all the passengers have a cabin or at least a chair on the sleeping deck. In such case it is not very important to have room on board just for hanging around and spending time. The situation is of course the reverse between Helsinki and Tallinn.

On the morning departure I had some trouble finding a place just to sit down for a while. Many passengers are in the bad habbit of occupying seats in bars and cafeterias from harbor to harbor although the usage of common room is obviously designed upon rotation of seats between passengers. The return departure was less crowded so at least I was able to sit most of the time.

The prospect of a cross over in two hours and a half during the winter period sounds very tempting. Unfortunately, though, this does not apply for passengers without cars. There is no landing ramp for foot passengers in neither Tallinn nor Helsinki. Those are expected to be ready by end of March but as long as they are still being built, the foot passengers enter and depart the ferry through the car deck and are transported to the harbor terminal on a bus.

For safety reasons, the cars must be let out before the foot passengers can be allowed on the car deck. There is just one bus in each end serving the foot passengers so the bus has to take several turns to transport the passengers. As a result, you can not really plan the actual time you arrive at either end of the journey. Even those with the sharpest elbows have to count on at least half an hour at each end.

As I returned to Tallinn harbor in the afternoon I had just ten minutes left before the passport control. I would not have made it, had not the General Secretary of the Estonian Journalist Union, Mrs. Ebba Rääts, been kind enough to process my press cards while I was doing my shopping in town. There is a World of difference being left with three hours to do one’s business in town as opposed to five hours as planned.

The whole concept of having a Tallinn extension to this ship which may or may not be a good choice between Helsinki and Rostock looks quite a lot like cashing in. I do know a number of pubs and bars in Helsinki that serve 0,5 litres of beer for a lesser price than 4,20 € although quite many also ask more than that. Judging from the selection of beer in the Superfast bars, the expensive stuff is bought from either Germany or Estonia, both of which are cheaper countries than Finland.

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