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End of the line in Finland for last direct EU-Russia train link

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By David Mac Dougall
File picture of Allegro train at Helsinki Central Railway Station
File picture of Allegro train at Helsinki Central Railway Station   -   Copyright  David Mac Dougall

The last direct train link between the EU and Russia has come to the end of the line, when the St. Petersburg to Helsinki Allegro service arrived in the Finnish capital at 7:07pm on Sunday night.

Finnish train operator VR announced on Friday that it would halt its twice-daily high speed service, which was launched just 12 years ago with Vladimir Putin on board the first train.

The service is technically owned by a company called Karelian Trains, a joint venture between VR and Russian Railways which each own a 50% stake in the company.

The Allegro trains are being stopped because of EU sanctions, and VR says that people who wanted to leave Russia, including Finnish citizens, have had "safe passage" until now.

"We have continued to operate the Allegro in accordance with the authorities' instructions, with the aim of securing access to Finland for Finns. During these weeks, people who wanted to leave Russia have had time to leave the country" says Topi Simola, VR's Senior Vice President for Passenger Services in a statement.

"Now, due to the sanctions, it is no longer appropriate to continue the Allegro service" he adds.

David Mac Dougall
File picture of Allegro train departing Helsinki for St. PetersburgDavid Mac Dougall

Russians packed trains to Finland as sanctions hit

In the first weeks after the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, there was an increase in the number of passengers using the high-speed Allegro trains, which connect the Finnish capital with Russia's second city in just three hours 30 minutes.

More people used the train service to leave Russia as flight bans were imposed and air routes shut down.

But those numbers have now slumped.

"During the recent couple of weeks there has only been about 60% capacity daily, on the trains from St. Petersburg to Finland direction," VR's Head of Communications Tatu Tuominen tells Euronews.

"From Finland to St Petersburg it's been something like 25% capacity on the trains" he adds.

A separate overnight train service linking Moscow to Helsinki, with a stop in St Petersburg, was cancelled during the COVID pandemic and is currently still not operating. The "Lev Tolstoy" train was wholly owned and operated by Russian Railways.

Land border crossings between the two countries remain open, but the end of passenger and cargo services between Finland and Russia is highly symbolic: even during the Cold War, a night train ran through the Iron Curtain between Helsinki and Russia.