Dr Maria Kyne, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the Technological University of the Shannon, chaired the final session of Engineers Ireland's recent national conference, which included a presentation on Helsinki's West Metro.

"This session has a focus on decarbonisation of infrastructure and some of the solutions that are in practice," said Dr Kyne. "In Engineers Ireland we are focused on ensuring that engineers gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to sustain the profession in the future, particularly in relation to decarbonisation. 

"We will hear about how Helsinki is putting such an emphasis on public transport provision for its citizens and has just expanded its current metro – which will be very interesting for us – as Dublin is to have a 16-station, 19.4km metro, which will hopefully do much to lower our dependency on cars in this city. As of 2020, 59% of all journeys within Dublin were by private car, according to Deloitte’s City Mobility Index, while just 15% were by bus, light rail or train." 

Helsinki: West Metro

"Matias Johansson is chief financial officer of Länsimetro (also called the West Metro), which extends the Helsinki metropolitan subway system by 13 new stations and which is due to open very soon. Matias, who works closely with his engineering colleagues, will talk about some of the challenges he has encountered, the innovations he has seen and some learnings for us here in Dublin.

"Matias is an experienced corporate executive with a broad background in major construction projects, real estate development and environmental management.

"He has rebuilt organisations and processes for companies in crises and tendered for, won and executed some of the biggest infrastructure investment deals in Finland. 

"Helsinki’s wider metropolitan area population is circa 1.4 million people and its metro system is in demand. The West Metro is a joint project of the cities of Espoo and Helsinki with an annual revenue turnover of €120m and a total CAPEX of more than €2bn. 

"As the CFO of the project, he is responsible for the financing, financial forecasting, reporting and control of the project. He holds an executive MBA from the Hanken School of Economics and a master of arts from the Freie Universität Berlin." 

Johansson elaborated on the importance of building a strong core team and an organisation of sufficient size to get the job done; guarding your scope and agreeing on procedures and tying contractor progress and reporting to payments. 

Helsinki's emphasis on public transport provision

Transport mix

  • Sustainable transports, public transport, bicycle, pedestrian, up to 76% in urban core, pre-pandemic;
  • Metro serves as an east-west backbone along the coast;
  • Heavy rail serves the west, northwest, north and northeast, light rail under constructioncircular line and southeast.

Urban fabric

  • Very small urban core on Helsinki peninsula;
  • Local urban satellites at 5/10 and some even 15km from the centre;
  • But by far – mostly suburban, detached houses with sizeable gardens and private parking lots;
  • Much like Dublin, built but not very densely.

Helsinki Metro System

  • First proposed in 1955;
  • Current scope, including West Metro, first appeared in 1968;
  • Initial phase approved shortly thereafter and completed almost 15 years later in 1982;
  • Last underground station added to existing line in 1995, mostly only overground construction since the 1980s;
  • A break in underground metro construction for a good 20 years;
  • Basically restarted from zero.

The options may not have been any better:


  • An obvious limit to growth;
  • Reliability already an issue at peak hours;
  • Transition to trunk and feeder lines.

Light rail

  • Routing must follow existing road network;
  • You don’t really introduce a new transport corridor;
  • Access to stations, always on either side of the road, or worse yet, between lanes;
  • Land use as typically already built;
  • Barrier effect increasing travel time for other means of transport, notably pedestrians and more vocally, private cars.
  1. Very few existing residents enjoy a direct metro service to anywhere because of fragmented urban structure.
  2. Reception has not been all-out jubilation.
  3. For most people the metro has meant a transition from an infrequent but direct bus connection to the city centre to an equally infrequent transit bus to the metro station and then to wherever they are going. 

Phase I

  • May have noticed that the cost estimate went up 50% during planning phase, addition of one station, but also improved plan maturity;
  • Unfortunately the construction phase faced difficulties leading to cost and schedule overruns – this was NOT A very SUCCESSFUL project;
  • 10 x private investment multiplier
  • What was (more or less) intentionally ignored at planning phase turned out to be the biggest asset;
  • Improved efficiency of land use and investments made the project a winner despite the setbacks;
  • New residential districts, three very large shopping centre projects, new offices and relocation of stock-listed company HQs;
  • Sources of income – construction permits, corporate tax, real estate tax;
  • Up to 36 million annual passengers
  • Mostly transitioning from combustion engine buses to electric trains;
  • Underperformance
  • Negligible effect on car ridership;
  • Very few people transitioned from driving a car to riding the metro;
  • Very few existing residents enjoy a DIRECT metro service to anywhere because of fragmented urban structure;
  • Future benefits
  • Released road capacity from bus lanes to low-emission vehicles;
  • Provides path to growth in the future;
  • Is a realistic alternative to car ownership for people moving INTO the area;
  • Park & ride use below forecast;
  • The two phases will include some 2,500 parking places;
  • You can’t reduce car ridership, by investing in it;
  • Toll roads are being considered to tackle car traffic volumes. 

Lessons learnt

Maturity of regulation

  • An underground metro station had not been built in 20 years in Helsinki;
  • And never in Espoo;
  • Volume of passengers and underground enclosed environment were totally new territory;
  • Regulation was drawn up as the project progressed – a pilot project would have cleared the path without risking all of the eight stations;
  • Building automation;
  • 52 interconnected systems;
  • Fire alarms, elevators, ventilation, locking, traffic control;
  • Limited space, expanding either impossible or very expensive;
  • Testing up to the standards required in the metro totally overwhelmed most of the contractors;
  • We paid a little more for the square metres, but a lot less for the installations;
  • The surface area of the FIVE latest stations is not a lot less than that of the EIGHT older stations;
  • This was done to accommodate all the systems and provide room for future extension;
  • Sponsor requirements
  • Expectations also changed – accessibility was upgraded making all entryways fully accessible;
  • A parallel project to automate operation resulted in scope changes – and more new regulation;
  • Changes in urban planning – some areas were totally redrawn during construction;
  • Process for managing changes;
  • Proposal by sponsor;
  • Evaluation by projects;
  • Approval by sponsor;
  • Scope changes almost always have cost and schedule effects;
  • SPONSOR should have contingencies for changes;
  • Third-party stakeholders
  • The metro is built to enable city growth, BUT it would be best if the city growth could WAIT a little;
  • Changes in sponsor requirements are OFTEN substantial but at least SOMETIMES controllable;
  • Changes in third-party stakeholder plans are SOMETIMES substantial but almost NEVER controllable;
  • In Tapiola the metro station was supposed to be built neatly under an existing commercial centre;
  • Instead the commercial centre was demolished and rebuilt in parallel with the metro stations causing a total makeover of the plans and almost a duplication of costs;
  • Particularly problematic as third-party interests typically include three parties, the project, the sponsor and the external party, involving BOTH public bureaucracy and touchy commercial interests – and your limited resources;
  • HUGELY important to limit your exposition – preferably by phasing the project into smaller parts;
  • How changes BY the sponsor or RELATING TO the sponsor are managed? How are uncontrolled changes communicated, who has the right to approve controlled changes to scope?
  • Controlled changes are relatively easy to manage, although they require a process – and typically a lengthy one that may stall the project;
  • Uncontrolled are a matter they own – the CITY as a sponsor – but individual functions of the city, such as planning, building control, housing, transport all make decisions that affect the project, ie cause scope changes;
  • Managing target setting
  • Define targets and evaluate the plan against those, eliminate surplus;
  • Avoid superlatives, aim for 'the enough', MVP;
  • Exclude non-core elements, those can be added later (with required resources) or contracted separately. 

Phase II

  • Did our best to learn from the first phase;
  • Wanted to outsource project management and transfer risk;
  • Broke the project to design and build contracts, each comprising one station + one for the metro line;
  • Not dissimilar to the NEC ECC option C contracts chosen for the Metrolink, cost target contracts with schedules;
  • Small market of contractors capable of pulling through a single metro station – we were lucky to get five main GOOD contractors for the second phase;
  • Always a trade-off;
  • Progress and reporting
  • Less interfaces, BUT increasing distance to subcontractors;
  • The more layers you have, the less INFORMATION and less CONTROL;
  • Build CONTROLS and INCENTIVES to manage subcontractors;
  • Advanced system for tracking project and reporting requirements were handed down to contractors;
  • What we got was NOMINAL COMPLIANCE – omissions and inaccuracies that were not punishable by the contracts;
  • The system worked well, we typically knew BETTER THAN the main contractor how the subprojects were doing;
  • I’d still tie quality of reporting to payments posts;
  • Avoid lock-in, include options;
  • Identify key variables;
  • Small things, such as extension of construction or maintenance phases – a price per day;
  • Bigger things, such as individual entrances that relied on progress of third-party projects;
  • Have a set price for reduction or extension of scope;
  • Very few surprises, we pretty much knew where the risks were;
  • Just didn’t have the foresight to ask the contractors to price them. 

Build a strong core team

  • West metro – 20 of our own people and 100 consultants, I would have had an even bigger internal team;
  • Build a sufficient organisation and build incentives to keep the team involved;
  • Not only MONEY, training and career paths;
  • Start small, grow gradually
  • Give the team time to get on board and learn the ropes – start small, capitalise gradually;
  • Preparatory works, tunnelling, supporting structures... anything to get the core team going;
  • THIS takes time;
  • Tuckman’s forming – norming – storming – performing model;
  • Even great individuals make a weak team at start, investment at the beginning pays back when things get tough;
  • Adjust to change
  • YOU have a team;
  • YOU’VE got it going;
  • ONLY now your troubles REALLY start;
  • Identify phases of project and adjust the organisation for each in plenty of time;
  • Approvals, planning, tendering, construction, installations, testing, ramp-up;
  • There is a core team that ideally lives through the whole project;
  • BUT much of the surroundings will change AGAIN and AGAIN;
  • YOU can’t do it with A TEAM, you need SEVERAL teams throughout the project;
  • Here again phasing would be great;
  • Build the line (SAY) five stations a time;
  • Once tunnelling is finished on the first five, the tunnelling team will move to the next five;
  • And the first five will be taken up by the construction team;
  • Improvement of processes and continuity for team members;
  • Not always possible, but an alternative to be considered;
  • Navigating changing operating environment, third-party requirement – each station is a possible point-of-contact – what to do if you have trouble on all at once;
  • Joko kassavirtakäyrä ja project management team vs construction team TAI Gantt-käyrä missä vaiheistettu projekti ja samalla tiimillä pidempi kokonaisviiva
  • 2017 – 5,9 to 1
  • 2018 – 7,1 to 1
  • 2019 – 11,2 to 1
  • 2020 – 7,6 to 1
  • 2021 – 3,3 to 1.