There is an old railway line that leads from the shore to the centre of Helsinki. I remember talking about it while on a little Architectural trip in Helsinki during the summer with some friends. So last autumn when I saw on flickr that vornaskoti had walked it and knew that with the closing in of the days the time was now to do a little urban exploration.
So I started the walk at Ruohalahti where the line starts at ground level. It crosses the roads under Porkalagaten and continues in a wideish plateau. It is here that the line becomes fenced off, but its really only to discourage the casual observer. The ways in are numerous and easy. This first section which is flatter and wider than the rest still shows many echoes of its history. It was the only place along the line I saw a timber sleeper still buried into the ground. The tracks have otherwise been removed, but the shading from the metal rust and perhaps organic compounds in the water run off have shaded the stones so there is still perceptible the shadow of the tracks in the stone surface.
Here you can follow the tracks into the centre and the stone base of Helsinki with buildings seemingly perched precariously on top rear up ahead of you. Here also you walk below one of the many bridges over the tracks which serve to connect the city above so that people pass over ignorant of the route below.
The tracks turn here and to the left the wall of stone is replaced by a fence and shallow bank. There is a concrete construction that once you pass you can see has a door built into it, access to a tunnel below this one. Propped up against the side is a rough construction bivouac type thing , a shelter a homeless man has made. I peer cautiously through it and there is no one there. I continue and the bank to the left once again rears up and we start to pass under the first of many bridges which form part of Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu above. This next bridge also has a rough tent shelter which is also empty. It’s at this moment I consciously notice a great change in my state of mind. Up to this point the walk has been a really pleasant experience a discovery and I’ve been excited. but I now get the feeling I’m trespassing in someones territory, actually technically I guess I am trespassing. I know this place is where people are somehow living, I’m conscious of being hemmed in by stone walls on each side and there is the faint smell of piss. My state of mind has changed very quickly. I move a little swifter now but after a few bridges with no sign of habitation and the smell of human life gone I again feel a little better although not the same as at the beginning.
It’s so that this piece of Helsinki is below the surface of the street, its aurally quieter, nature sprouts up on either side invading and taking back what it can. I can see the city above people walking by, cars, bikes but they take no notice of me and the sound of Helsinki is totally different down here. This is a parallel layer of the city, close enough to touch the main city yet separated and totally ignored by the people above.
The track goes past the new parliament extension, I see a single shoe in the middle of the path, which looks like it might have been thrown against the side of the parliament and bounced back. The final bridge leads out to the park where the new music talo (house) is being built.
The railway line was decommissioned as part of the moving of Helsinki port away from the city. It was no longer required. Then there was a plan to incorporate the line into a central road tunnel so that cars could travel east west below the city. The plan was shelved because it wasn’t apparent whether the tunnel would actually ease or intensify congestion in the centre.
The city will sometime this year turn this into a pedestrian and bike path (see map), which will allow for a road tunnel to be built in the future if required, but should soon provide for a great addition almost a mini park for pedestrians and cyclists in the centre of Helsinki. It also expands for me the underground or subterranea Helsinki which represents the citys most exciting aspect at the moment.
Here is the link to the full set on flickr.
(thanks to olli)