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New high-speed train whisks you from Finland to Russia

December 24, 2010|By Benoit Lebourgeois | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Visitors stroll through a Christmas fair this month in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Visitors stroll through a Christmas fair this month in St. Petersburg,… (Alexander Demianchuk /…)

Train travelers can zip from Helsinki, Finland, to St. Petersburg, Russia, in less than four hours, thanks to a new high-speed rail service.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last week inaugurated the new route, the first such link to cross the former Iron Curtain. With top speeds of 140 miles per hour, the new Allegro train shrinks the 250-mile journey from five-and-a-half hours to about three-and-a-half hours.

Round-trip fares sold by Rail Europe, (800) 622-8600, which markets the tickets to U.S. customers, start at $209 in second class and $322 in first class, which includes a newspaper, snack and coffee or tea. You can reserve up to two months in advance.

Engineers for the new service, a joint venture between VR Group (Finnish Railways) and Russian Railways, faced a number of challenges. They had to design the new locomotives and cars to cope with system incompatibilities between the two countries on signals, electrical current and even platform height.

Border control is handled on board, but the visa necessary to enter Russia must be secured ahead of time.

Two trains leave Helsinki daily, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Return service leaves St. Petersburg daily at 6:40 a.m. and 3:25 p.m. Two more trains in each direction will be added in spring. The route goes between the Helsinki Central and St. Petersburg Finlyandsky stations, with several stops along the way.

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