New innovations facilitate winter maintenance of transport infrastructure

New innovations facilitate winter maintenance of transport infrastructure

Published 11.11.2015

Winter maintenance is facing the busiest time of the year. The Finnish Transport Agency is preparing for the challenge by using both well-proven methods and by testing new innovative practices.

Snow-rich winters pose the greatest challenges in railway management. Road surfaces suffer the most from mild and rainy winters with temperatures around zero degrees. At sea, long periods of freezing weather strain the icebreaking capacity.

Preparedness for snow-rich winters at snow-melting site

 Due to the construction work in Central Pasila, there is a shortage of snow-dumping grounds. Therefore, a snow-melting site for handling snow cleared from the tracks between Helsinki Central Railway Station and Ilmala has been built in Ilmala. The snow-melting field is heated with return water from district heating, and in snow-rich winters it can handle 100,000 m³ of snow.

"The snow-melting field is a new innovation to be tested for the first time this winter. We wanted to develop an environmentally friendly and efficient way of handling snow. Since the snow cleared from the railway network is relatively clean, it is better to steer melted snow water into the sewage than to transport snow by lorry out of town", says Juha-Matti Vilppo. The idea is that the water on the site melts the pile of snow, which in turn insulates the water. Heating will not be used during times of severe frost, and, in winters with little snow, the site can be used as a traditional snow-dumping ground.

This winter the Finnish Transport Agency will also test a new blasting technique to clear junction points on the Ring Rail Line. Snow from the trains typically falls on the track at the turnouts, which then easily become blocked.  Havukoski is a critical spot for train traffic on both the Ring Rail Line and on the main line. A blast after each train will keep the turnouts clean and support the existing clearing methods, such as heating and snow protection. "The technique has been used in Japan with good results. The blasts installed at the junction points on the Ring Rail Line are situated at a sufficient distance from residential areas to avoid noise disturbance. However, pedestrians on the nearby footpath may be surprised by the whirling show and puffing sounds", says Jukka P. Valjakka, Head of the Railway Maintenance Unit.

Close cooperation between the entrepreneurs and transport operators is vital for train punctuality and effective winter maintenance. Each year approximately 20-30 million euros is spent on winter maintenance of the railway network.

Unchanged resources for road maintenance

 The supplementary funding allocated for the road repair backlog will be used to repair paved roads, bridges and road structures. The resources for winter maintenance will, however, remain unchanged, i.e. 120 million euros. "This winter the same quality requirements will apply to the whole country.  For example, the latest requirements on road surface evenness, have, through competitive tendering, now also been included in the regional contracts for the secondary road network", says Maintenance Specialist Heikki Lappalainen.

The strictest quality requirements apply to the busiest sections of the, in total, 78,000 km of public roads, but it is still impossible to guarantee year-round summer road conditions on any specific road. Icy roads are mainly salted, and in critical locations sanding is used as required. In important groundwater areas, the salt is replaced by formiates. Slipperiness on secondary roads is prevented by sanding and by mechanically keeping the surface of the packed snow as even and coarse as possible.

"Good winter tyres are an important safety investment especially in difficult road conditions on secondary roads. It is difficult for both the entrepreneurs and the road users to anticipate varying road conditions. Therefore, it is important to drive carefully and adapt the speed to the prevailing conditions", says Lappalainen.

 The Finnish Transport Agency reports exceptional road conditions through variable road signs, on its website and through traffic reports via radio and navigators, to name some examples. The Road Users' Phone Service (at phone number: 0200 2100) helps with acute traffic problems. Feedback regarding winter maintenance, road maintenance and traffic can be sent to Traffic Customer Service.

Severity of ice conditions not known until January

 Nine icebreakers are available this winter season. In addition to Arctia's conventional icebreakers, Alfons Håkans' Zeus, Swedish icebreaker Frej, and two of Arctia's multipurpose icebreakers will be assisting vessels this winter. Traffic restrictions will be imposed in the ports according to ice thickness, following the same principles as in previous winters. These traffic restrictions are primarily imposed to ensure vessel traffic safety.

"The total cost of winter navigation varies greatly according to the harshness of the winter, but a mild winter always improves Finland's competitiveness. We do not know how severe the winter will be until January", says Jarkko Toivola, Head of the Winter Navigation Unit.

During the winter season, the Finnish Transport Agency posts current information on its website. The renewed service,, includes current information about vessel traffic flow, traffic restrictions in ports, icebreaker positions and ice conditions. The target user groups are ship officers, shipping companies, ports, ship agents, pilots, authorities and private persons. The service combines information from different authorities and the data is visualised for users in the chart interface. The open service has been planned for various terminal devices. The language used in the service is English and the first posts will be made at the beginning of the season.

Further information:

 Senior Officer Juha-Matti Vilppo, phone +358 29 534 3985

 Head of Railway Maintenance Unit Jukka P. Valjakka, phone +358 29 534 3925

 Maintenance Procurement Specialist Heikki Lappalainen, phone +358 29 534 3553

 Head of Winter Navigation Unit Jarkko Toivola, phone +358 29 534 3327

Web information:
Current traffic information (e.g. road weather cameras, disturbances and road conditions),

Baltic Icebreaking Management,

Winter Navigation,

Ilmala snow-melting field,