Trams in Helsinki
The construction of tram lines in Helsinki began in 1890 and regular tram traffic in 1891. The total length of the route network was 8.5 kilometres. The gauge was one metre. To begin with, the route network only ran in one direction. There were no stops—you could get into the tram anywhere along the route.
The tram was pulled by a single horse in three-hour shifts. Another horse was harnessed to help pull the tram uphill. The horses learned to know the route so well that they knew it even in the dark and in bad weather.
There were originally two horse tram lines: Töölö–Kauppatori–Kaivopuisto and Sörnäinen–Kauppatori–Lapinlahti. The stables were located in the Ruusula district of Töölö. The Tram Museum is now located in the same area, in the tram hall built in 1900.
“Don’t stay and block the door, move away to make more room!”
The lines were marked with different colours as even many adults lacked proper reading skills. Remembering the different colours of routes was enough to be able to cope in traffic. The number and letter identifiers of routes were introduced in the 1920s. Routes to the suburbs were allocated letters, while numbers were used for other lines.
The first tickets were tokens. In the 1900’s, paper and cardboard tickets were introduced, which were punched or stamped by conductors. Conductors took care of order in the trams until 1987.
The tram network expanded as the city grew. The population needed a fast and cheap means of transport. Expanding the horse-powered network was not worthwhile, and electricity became the source of power in 1900.
“Step in and out in pairs of two—a faster trip for me and you!”
The 1930s were the golden age of tram traffic. At the beginning of the decade, 168 motorised trams and 147 trailers were in traffic. By 1939, there were already 61 million tram trips annually.
Helsinki’s public transport relied on trams at the beginning of World War II. Buses had been put into military use. There was a shortage of electricity and drivers, and the fleet was deteriorating because of the lack of spare parts and repair. It took years to recover from the war.
“No talking to the driver.”
In the 1960s, more and more citizens of Helsinki got their own car, which caused the traffic to get jammed. People started to think that trams were clumsy, and even giving them up completely was considered.
In the 1970s, public opinion started to favour trams again. Helsinki City Transport started acquiring new articulated trams. Separate lanes were allocated to trams and the traffic started running more and more smoothly. New routes were created as the city expanded. Trams are currently an inseparable part of Helsinki’s cityscape and urban culture.
For further information on trams, see the Finnish Tramway Society website.