Information published on 6 October 2015 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 467.

Finland: Director General Antti Vehviläinen envisions the impact of digitalisation on transport infrastructure management

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Director General Antti Vehviläinen at the Finnish Transport Agency envisions the revolutionary impact of digitalisation on the building and maintenance of transport infrastructure. When all the information concerning construction and repair of the transport infrastructure is based on shared real-time data, this will reduce costs, improve the quality and bring about new ways of organising work.

Since its foundation, the Finnish Transport Agency has grappled with the same austerity factors as the previous organisations. The accumulation of the maintenance backlog is a real problem and experts have long agreed on its detrimental effects. Finally, signs of waking up to address this acute economic problem can be discerned in the political decision-making.

“The Ministry of Transport and Communications has proposed additional annual funding of 200 million euros in the State Budget to stop the accumulation of the maintenance backlog. There is every reason to believe that it will be approved. If it is, we will spend 600 million euros on improving the road and railway network over a three year period. This would be a good start to reducing the 2.5 billion euro maintenance backlog, which is increasing by 100 million euros each year,” said Vehviläinen.

He considers the funding for improving the road and railway network equally important. The situation is not as alarming on the waterways, where relatively few constructions are exposed to wear and tear.

“Additional funding for basic transport infrastructure management is naturally welcome, but there is a catch: the money is taken from the funding of new projects. We are able to handle the ongoing projects with the available funds, but this implies that we cannot start any large new projects in the next few years.”

Common sense decision-making

The policy of the new government to dismantle unnecessary regulatory barriers and reduce bureaucracy in infrastructure projects is praised by Antti Vehviläinen.

“By dismantling unnecessary regulatory barriers I mean eliminating such obstacles that are only slowing down efficient operations, without serving any meaningful purpose. Structural standards are, of course, a different matter. It is also important that citizens have a say in matters concerning important infrastructure projects in the future,” he specified.

“Digitalisation has enabled better interaction within transport infrastructure construction and management projects as well,” said Vehviläinen. Data models and electronic communication have improved the quality and efficiency of these projects. In addition, Vehviläinen mentioned that digitalisation will diversify the way the projects are organised, since all parties have access to the same information.

“In my opinion, digitalisation will actually have an indirect effect on the choice of contract model. Perhaps the project alliance model would not have been gaining ground without digitalisation,” he said.

Moreover, Vehviläinen said that so far the Finnish Transport Agency’s experience of the alliance projects has only been positive.

“There is always room for improvement in the implementation processes. The same applies to one’s own actions and the operations of the whole organisation. I would still say that we have succeeded quite well in organising the Finnish Transport Agency – after two years of breaking in,” he summarised.

(Source: Finnish Transport Agency)