Valtionrautatiet as an entity has it’s origins in 1862, when the first railway line, between Helsinki and Hämeenlinna opened in Finland, wich then was still part of the Russian Empire (albeit as a semi-autonomous Grand Duchy). In 1877 most of the companies that had build various lines thruought finland were reorganized and brought under the control of the “Rautatiehallitus”, the National Board of Railways.
After Finland’s independence from the crumbling russian empire, the Rautatiehallitus was re-organized into the Ministry of Pubblic Works and Transportation of the newborn Finnish Repubblic, effectively marking the start of Valtionrautatiet as the commercial and operational entity of the Board of Railways.
After the second world war, starting from the 1950s, Valtionrautatiet began a process of dieselization of it’s fleet, introducing the Dr4 diesel multiple units in 1952 and the Class Hr11 diesel locomotives in 1955, followed by the far more successful Class Hr12 (later Dr12) in 1959 and the even more successful Alsthom-built Class Hr13 (later Dr13) of 1962.
Plans for electrification, using the 25Kv 50Hz AC system, were also made in the mid-1960s, with the first electric services beginning in 1969 on commuter runs between Helsinki and Kirkkonummi, using Sm1 Class electric multiple units. The first true electrification breaktrough however came in 1973, when mainline electric services began, hauled by the Soviet-built Sr1 class. A few years later, in 1975, the last steam locomotives where withdrawn.
Starting from 1985 Valtionrautatiet began modernizing it’s image by adopting the current “VR” acronym, a new logo (wich replaced the traditional “winged wheel” of many european national railways) and a new livery based on red and white.
In 1995 Valtionrautatiet was deeply restructured, forming the current VR Group, an “Oy” (“Osakeyhtiö”, a limited company) fully owned by the Finnish Government wich also comprises several “complementary” bus and trucking companies. Around the same time, a general “speed-up” of passenger services was made, with the introduction of 200Km/h-capable rolling stock: swiss-derived Sr2 electric locomotives and finnish-built IC2 double-decker passenger coaches and Sm3 “Pendolino” tilting electric multiple units made in Italy by Fiat Ferroviaria.
From 2009 onwards, VR’s distinctive 1985 red-white livery began to be replaced by a light-green and white one, symbolizing the train as an “ecological” way of travel.
Currently, the Finnish Railways are among the most modern in europe, operating a 9216Km-long network (3249Km of wich electrified) stretching from Helsinki in the south to Kolari in Lapland. VR operates primarily passenger services (including 200Km/h intercity trains connecting Finland’s largest cities, commuter services in Helsinki operated jointly with HKL, Helsinki’s pubblic transportation company, sleeper trains to the far north of the country and regional trains nationwide) and freight as well.
Particularily sizeable are the cross-border services to Russia (and formerly the Soviet Union), with direct high-speed trains being operated by Karelian Trains, a VR-RZD (Russian Railways) joint venture, between Helsinki and St. Petersburg using dedicated Sm6 tilting electric multiple units, themselves too part of the “Pendolino” family.