Tunnelling to success

In June 2007, the cities of Espoo and Helsinki in Finland jointly founded a company called Länsimetro Oy (West Metro Ltd) to undertake the construction of the west metro line and stations project

The building of the metro is the largest infrastructure undertaking in Finland, and alongside West Metro it also includes project consultant Sweco PM, and Helsinki City Transport (in charge of operating the metro) alongside several Finnish and international contractors that were selected on the basis of a public competitive bidding process in accordance with the Act on Public Contracts. The entire project has been meticulously approached to ensure it has a safe and efficient construction, with the end goal of providing 170,000 daily passengers with a metro service that includes west-metro-138-beight new stations, with five more included in the second phase. The metro will operate on a rail line of 21 kilometres underground in two parallel tunnels, and what really makes the project stand out is that the entire metro line runs underground, through a rock tunnel.

The metro will be constructed simultaneously in several places along the new metro line, and at the time of writing the first phase is now in its testing phase and the second phase of drilling and blasting is underway.

Since construction began in 2009, at every stage there has been a commitment to achieving the best for its design, construction, and how the metro will run, and this works in conjunction with an understanding of the needs and safety of those that will be using the metro, as well as those building it.

Indeed, due to the extensive scope of this project, and the challenges that are presented when tunnelling through dense rock, the whole process has maintained a focus on safety and correct procedures throughout. The mechanisms to ensure that the project is as safe as possible were highlighted by CEO of West Metro Matti Kokkinen: “Safety is of particular concern during construction, and contractors are required to comply with strict safety regulations. Rescue services are also involved in the planning, and we organise regular exercises in demanding conditions with both of these groups so that everyone is prepared just in case.” He continued: “Construction safety is supervised by the occupational safety and health administration of the Regional State Administrative Agency of Southern Finland. Also, in order to develop worksite safety and good safety practices, we have launched a Safest Metro Worksite competition for the metro worksites that encourages contractors to construct safely.”

In addition, the focus on safety extends out much further than the construction process, as there is also an extensive plan for the future safety measures that will be in place when the metro is operating – to such a degree that West Metro expects to have the safest metro lines in the world. For passenger safety there are already plans in place in case of emergency, with exits from the tunnel that will enter the neighbouring tunnel through smoke traps in the connection areas. The distance between connecting galleries is 160 metres and exit shafts will be located every 600 metres. There will also be a pedestrian walkway in the tunnel, and it will be equipped with signal and safety lights, which also have signposts every 25 metres. Further to this Matti added: “Thewest-metro-138-c tunnel network will be equipped with a fire detection system, and the metro will have a video surveillance system, plus trains will have a public address system for emergencies. This means that passage of a train requires undisturbed functioning of the system; otherwise, the train will be stopped and the situation cleared.”

Due to the scale of project it will bring a number of additional benefits alongside the modern metro system at its heart, such as its positive impact on employment in the area. On this topic Matti commented: “During the whole process West Metro will employ hundreds of planners, thousands of construction workers, and indirectly thousands of subcontractors, as well as an estimated 6000 person-years that will be used over the total project.”

Given the attention to detail that Matti has highlighted as integral to the success of this massive construction project, it is no surprise that West Metro’s plan also takes into account how it will integrate with the local areas and landscapes, and that each metro station will have a unique design to help passengers immediately recognise where they are. Said Matti: “Every station will have the same platform design and similar signage and access routes, and we are focusing on areas such as obstaclefree access, efficient feeder traffic and integration with the surrounding cityscape through lighting, materials, acoustics, art and so forth.”

The diligent approach that West Metro and its contractors have taken demonstrates the thought and passion that has gone into this project. Throughout every stage of the metro’s building there has been a thorough and professional methodology, which has been absolutely essential to the project getting closer to completion. The level of achievement that it has already displayed is a good indication that when the full West Metro system is up and running it will no doubt be a major success. Once this happens West Metro will be providing a modern public transport system that is designed for the needs of its passengers in the 21st century, and will likely set the standard that others in Europe are compared to.