Ihmisiä Sörnäisten metroasemalla.

Improving metro capacity and reliability

The updating of the metro’s ageing systems ensures sufficient capacity and improves reliability.

A key measure for increasing the capacity of the metro is shortening the headway between trains. The metro capacity and reliability improvement project, or METKA, is proposing a gradual implementation that would make it possible to shorten the headway between trains to 120 seconds and shift to semiautomated operation, create the preconditions for eventually shortening the headway to 100 seconds and not rule out the possibility of increasing the level of automation of the metro system in the future.

However, shifting to fully automated operation would most likely require additional investments for Helsinki’s core metro tunnels and all underground stations. Because of this, the decision regarding the mode of operation must be made and the related financial review must be carried out later, if a higher level of automation is deemed appropriate.

Project background

The metro is still using many original (dating back over 40 years) systems that are nearing the end of their life-cycle. The current traffic control system, in particular, needs to be updated to ensure the reliable and safe operation of the metro in the future as well. Parts of the system that are now being updated include the train control system and track circuits.

The updating of the train control system will make it possible to increase the number of passengers of the metro by enabling shorter headways between trains than are currently possible. Shortening the headway between trains and other capacity-increasing measures are important, as transport forecasts indicate that the metro’s number of passengers will continue to increase. The current capacity of the metro is simply not enough to meet the increasing demand.

Metro station of Hakaniemi.

However, there are currently major uncertainties related to to the passenger forecasts, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects thereof, the cost of energy, which has been rising in recent years, environmental objectives and the changed geopolitical situation. Furthermore, it is difficult to predict exactly when capacity will need to be increased. That being said, steps need to be taken in a proactive manner, as implementing capacity-building measures for the current metro system requires careful planning and years of work.

Metro systems have long service lives and their updates have far-reaching impacts. The updates to be implemented now will make it possible to operate the metro safely for another 40 years.

Measures for improving capacity and reliability

One of the key measures for ensuring the safe and reliable operation of the metro is the updating of the train control system. The train control system is essential for ensuring the safety of the metro system, as it prevents the trains from speeding and colliding with one another.

The aim is to replace the current automatic train stop system with an automatic train control (ATC) system. It should be noted, however, that this does not mean that the metro will be shifting to fully automated operation, as the new system will still require the presence of a driver in the cab. The possible further development of the entire metro’s traffic control system is also being taken into account in the update project.

Another important measure is the replacement of the track circuits. Track circuits detect the locations of metro trains along the track; without them, safe operation would be impossible. Replacing the current circuits is essential, as there are no longer spare parts available for them, in addition to which the number of technicians who can repair them is limited.

The current headway of 2.5 minutes during peak hours will not be sufficient to respond to the needs of the growing number of passengers in the future. A key measure for increasing capacity is to shorten the headway between trains. This will only be possible by updating systems, in addition to which more trains will of course be required as well. These investments will be made over the span of approximately ten years.

The metro capacity will also be improved through other means, such as developing the guidance provided at the stations and on the trains. The guidance systems will be tested and implemented gradually if they prove to be functional. During autumn 2022, we will be testing whether passenger flow through metro stations could be improved and sped up by changing the directions of escalators. In addition to this, the project will involve steering passengers to the trains that have the most space and to stand more precisely where the doors of the train will stop.

Project phases

Metro train M300
  • The track circuit project will be completed in 2025, ensuring the reliable operation of the metro
  • The new train control system will be completed in 2029, enabling semi-automatic operation
  • New M400 series trains will be delivered in 2030–32 (current estimate), enabling semi-automatic operation with 120-second headway
  • The development of the traffic control system may continue in the 2030s. Further development would enable 100-second headway

Project mandate

Radio Network Pilot