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Business news, 23.11.2006 12:18

Agreement on fast rail service to St. Petersburg expected during Putin visit to Finland

Tarja Halonen Transport will be high on the agenda during Russian President Vladimir Putin's working visit to Helsinki on Thursday. Putin is to hold talks on bilateral issues with Finnish President Tarja Halonen prior to his participation in Friday's EU-Russia summit.

At the same time, it is expected that the CEOs of Finland's VR (Finnish Railways) and the Russian rail operator RZD will sign a cooperation agreement that is geared towards cutting the time taken to travel between Helsinki and St. Petersburg.

In addition to rail matters, the two heads of state will discuss the vexed question of truck lines at the Finnish-Russian border and problems that have arisen over the import of Russian raw timber.

VR and its Russian counterpart RZD are to set up a joint equally-owned rolling stock enterprise. This company will acquire the high-speed tilting electric train equipment that the two partners will then lease back in the future.

New locomotives and rolling stock are required in order to remove the need for engine changes at the border. The Russian and Finnish electrical systems are different, and new locomotives should be able to operate under both grid systems.

At present the journey between the Finnish capital and St. Petersburg takes around five hours, but in a few years' time it is hoped that this can be reduced to three hours.

Hitting such a target will nevertheless require a good deal of work on the track on both sides of the border - in order to allow the 220km/hour maximum speeds envisaged - and also the speeding up of Russian border formalities.

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