There’s a really good way of getting to Helsinki Airport, and most people I know aren’t using it – yet. I don’t mean by bus, taxi, or even Uber. It’s cheap, easy, leaves every few minutes day and night, and doesn’t get caught in traffic. I’m talking about the train to the airport, and I hope I can convince you to take it too.
Ever since I was a little boy growing up in Canada, I’ve loved flying. When I was younger, I mainly appreciated the planes themselves, and one of the most exciting experiences of my childhood was visiting the cockpit of a Canadian Airlines jet while in mid-flight. I always picked a window seat, and I even had a favourite type of plane (Boeing 767, in case you’re interested). As I grew up, I began to enjoy the experience of being at the airport, the opportunity to occasionally buy your way into an airport lounge, and the fact that you could get free drinks on the plane. Even now, I’m looking forward to flying home in August, sitting in my window seat, and watching the southern tip of Greenland pass beneath me.
Recently, though, I’ve been excited about flying for an entirely new reason: the train connection to Helsinki Airport that was completed in late 2015, known in English as the Ring Rail Line. Chances are if you’re reading this that you’ve heard of the airport train, but you might not know how good it is. The grand opening didn’t go particularly smoothly, and as a result, there are some misconceptions about it – for example, that you need to take a shuttle bus to get to the terminal once the train arrives, which hasn’t been the case since December 2015.
The Ring Rail Line opened a year behind schedule, and the “grand opening” in July 2015 was complicated slightly by the fact that it would take four more months to open an escalator to the terminal, which necessitated the use of the shuttle bus. Now that it’s fully finished, though, it’s an excellent service, and seems to be designed to serve the people that will use it most frequently – the people who live in the Helsinki region – while still being easy for visitors to use. I’ll explain what I mean by that.
First, the service only uses new trains that have been specifically designed for it, with plenty of room for large luggage and electrical sockets at each seat. The trains come on average every five minutes at peak times, and the service starts early in the morning and runs late into the night. The signs for the train use a shade of purple that isn’t used for anything else, so it’s very easy to find your way to and from the platform. And, crucially for visitors, if you’re trying to get to Helsinki from the airport, you can’t get on the wrong train – both trains take you to the railway station via different routes.
It’s not a high speed or an express service, and at roughly 30 minutes per one-way trip, it’s not much (if at all) faster than driving, taking a taxi, or riding the bus. By that measure alone, it doesn’t stack up well against a service like Arlanda Express in Stockholm, a high-speed express train that takes only 20 minutes to go nearly twice the distance as its cousin in Helsinki. It’s hardly a fair comparison, though. While it’s a very nice experience, the cost of a single ticket is about €29, while a trip to the airport in Helsinki will cost you just €5.50.
Arlanda Express, along with the similar Union Pearson Express in Toronto and Heathrow Express in London, were designed primarily to appeal to business travelers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least in Canada, though, some people have been upset about a public infrastructure project being built to be used by a relative few, which is something you couldn’t say about the Ring Rail Line. In my opinion, HSL (the regional transport authority for the capital region) deserves credit for a very Finnish solution to this problem – though I also think they should hold off on future grand openings until they’re actually finished. Especially when the platform is as beautiful as the Airport station.
Being able to take a train to the airport is a sort of marker of a modern, international city, and Helsinki has managed to add this option in a way that makes travelling in and out of Finland a little bit nicer. Helsinki is a city that’s improving itself all the time, year after year, and it’s exactly because of projects like these. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the airport, and after reading this, I hope you are too.