Sattuma is a popular folk band from Petrozavodsk in Russian Karelia. The group includes, as a standard part of its repertoire, a song about the express train from Petrozavodsk to Joensuu in Finland. Great song, but no regular train plies the route described in the lyrics.
There are no scheduled cross-border passenger rail services between Finland and the Republic of Karelia (which is part of the Russian Federation). Indeed the only passenger rail services between Finland and Russia are those which cross the border at Vainikkala. These include the night train that links the Finnish and Russian capitals and the high-speed Allegro link from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg (both the night trains and the Allegro services stop at Vyborg on the Karelian Isthmus, but do not actually transit the Republic of Karelia).
Sattuma’s song about the train from Petrozavodsk to Joensuu has been wishful thinking — until this week. But now a train is set to run the route. On Friday 28 December and Saturday 29 December, an experimental passenger service will link the two cities. The cross-border train service will connect the two parts of Karelia, a region that is bisected by Finland’s border with the Russian Federation.
This week’s pilot train service may be more than merely symbolic. In September this year representatives of Finland and the Republic of Karelia signed an agreement that commits both sides to exploring the viability of cross-border passenger trains. The infrastructure already exists, and rail routes across the border are already used for freight (mainly exports of raw timber and iron ore from the Russian Federation). At that September meeting, there was talk of developing passenger traffic over two border crossings.
The first is the line from Vyartsilya in the Russian Federation to Niirala in Finland. It could be used by trains linking Petrozavodsk and Sortavala (both in the Republic of Karelia) with Joensuu in Finland. It is this cross-border route that this week’s special trains are using.
And further north, there is a well-used rail freight route from Kostomuksha in the Russian Federation to Vartius in Finland. There is discussion that this line might be exploited for a direct rail service from Petrozavodsk to the Finnish port city of Oulu on the Gulf of Bothnia.