New West Metro line – like building an ocean liner inside a glass bottle

The scope of the West Metro project is almost unprecedented in Finland. The end product will be vastly different from the metro service that was first created 40 years ago. The initial project plan, completed in 2008, failed to look forward towards the future and assess the sort of technologies that were likely to be available now, notably in the areas of fire safety but also in terms of wider building services. The safety features incorporated into the new metro are on a completely different level of sophistication, even by international standards.

Phase one of the project kicked off in 2009. Over the years, the technical specifications were revised, and the cities served by the metro line evolved and grew. For the project, this has meant having to adapt to a changing urban environment, it has brought multiple re-writes of the plan as well as a variety of extensions and expansions, particularly with regard to the technical aspects and close collaborations with other construction projects. The land above the metro line now houses a university campus, shopping centres and even the tallest building in Espoo. The West Metro is set up to enable so-called integrated journey chains that allow people to leave work, visit the supermarket, head home and take their children to after-school activities using public transport only. This will become a reality when you ensure that people can access the metro when and where they need it.

When you ask the contractors to comment on what the greatest challenge has been, they will invariably cite below-ground logistics. The planning that has gone into the project has largely involved ensuring that the logistics run smoothly. The process of constructing a 21st century metros service with all the technical sophistication it entails is akin to building an ocean liner inside a glass bottle, with no storage space. The project must follow the plan exactly and move seamlessly from phase to phase.

As we embarked on phase one, we did not have much previous experience of metro construction to draw on. Today, Finland has a whole team of people with a full range of up-to-date specialist skills in this area. Their expertise will be put to good use as we embark on phase two to construct the Matinkylä-Kivenlahti line. This phase comprises 14 kilometres of track, five stations and an underground depot at Sammalvuori. More than 90 per cent of the earthworks are already completed. In line with the lessons learned during phase one, the scope of the projects will be carefully scrutinised and particular attention will be given to ensuring that the work is well managed and information is effectively disseminated to the relevant teams.

We know what makes a good metro service, what technical facilities it requires, what the fire safety needs are and what sort of IT systems are called for. A metro construction project is a multi-disciplinary effort and effective information sharing is the critical success factor. This is what will deliver an end product that ideally matches user expectations.

Project management play a key role in mega projects of this scope. They are responsible for keeping an eye on the big picture, which will allow for effective decision-making, particularly towards the end of the project’s run. Large projects invariably involve huge amounts of detail and there are always vast numbers of staff on board. A precise overview allows the team to spot any issues and problems before they lead to bottlenecks. Everyone involved in delivering the project must take ownership of a clearly defined role and all must keep their eye on the big picture at all times.

Ville Saksi

Ville Saksi

Ville Saksi is the CEO of Länsimetro Oy

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