The Finnish state railway company VR has announced that all Ukrainian citizens can travel free on long-distance and commuter trains by presenting their passports to the train’s conductor.
The company said a Pressemitteilung that the measure was intended to enable "Ukrainians and potential refugees living in Finland meet in these circumstances".
Russian planes have been banned from flying over EU airspace since Monday. However, the Allegro train connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is still working.
The Finnish authorities and the EU had asked VR to keep the line open to ensure that Finnish citizens can return to Finland and that Russian citizens who want to leave their home country can do so.
In its statement, VR stated that Allegro is currently the only passenger train connection between the EU and Russia.
"The connection is maintained precisely because there are a large number of people who may have to return to their home countries. This is the only reason why the connection is continued," VR’s Director of Passenger Traffic Topi Simola sagte Yle.
At present, only Finnish and Russian citizens or dual nationals are allowed to travel on the Allegro train. The measure is based on the procedure introduced during the Covid pandemic, but VR says negotiations are under way to allow citizens of all EU and non-EU countries to travel on the line.
The statement stated that there are currently tens of thousands of EU citizens in Russia and that VR has asked the Russian authorities to change their pandemic guidelines so that citizens of other countries can travel to Finland with Allegro.
"Surely many hope to get out of there in time," Simola said.
Allegro trains from Russia at full capacity
All Allegro connections from St. Petersburg to Helsinki have been full of passengers since last Sunday, while on the way back they are full.
About 60 percent of the passengers on the trains from St. Petersburg to Helsinki last week were Russians and about 40 percent were Finnish citizens, Simola said.
"People are moving in both directions, but by far the majority come from Russia. My view is that a very small proportion of travel is business or diplomatic. Most are clearly more permanent movements. Passengers have no idea when they will return. This is a very exceptional situation," he said.
The Allegro service is currently operating at about half of its normal traffic capacity due to the Covid pandemic. According to Simola, there is still room on the trains for the coming weekend, so there is no need to increase capacity yet.
Tourism-based train traffic between the countries, which disrupted the Covid pandemic, did not have time to return to normal passenger numbers before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.
"Due to Covid restrictions, the number of passengers is limited to 327," Simola said, adding that if Russia changes its rules so that other EU citizens can use Allegro, the situation could change quickly.
"There will then be a requirement to reassess whether there is a need to increase traffic," he said.
VR is also experiencing “exceptional” times
VR also announced on Tuesday that it will refrain from any communication with its Russian counterpart, RZD, except for the exchanges required for cross-border traffic. This measure is in effect for the time being, the company said.
"The transfer of people and goods is no longer VR’s own decision. We have moved to a situation where this is coordinated at ministerial and EU level," Simola explained.
Finland and Russia each own half of the Allegro line connection. The state-owned Russian railway company RZD is responsible for traffic on the Russian side and VR on the Finnish side.
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