Could light rail solve problems larger than itself?


Have you ever heard of dust depots or intelligent mats? What about interactive stops or Tinder light rail? Neither had I before 11 May 2017, when I organised a workshop to come up with ways in which the Science Tram* could live up to its name in other ways than just the obvious one: combining 10 higher education campuses.

As a sociologist, my biased assumption was that the ideas to come up would be linked to people’s social contacts over discipline boundaries as well as to the interaction between the scientific community and the rest of society. This was not the case. Instead, I was once again impressed by the marvellous innovative force that can be tapped into when people from different backgrounds meet.

Technologies and service design connect people

What ideas came up in the Science Tram workshop?

The dust depot would be a place where fine particles accumulated onto the outer surfaces of the tram during its run are washed away into drainage water. Travel on light rail that uses renewable energy prevents the creation of fine particles when compared to modes of transportation that run on combustion engines. Thanks to the dust depot, the light rail would also actively clean the air of fine particle pollution caused by other traffic. Air would become cleaner and health hazards would decrease.

The intelligent mat in the tram would be able to identify users and collect information that could be used in research and on the market. It would also interact with users, providing foot massages, for instance. Interactive stops would provide traffic data to those who want it, while passengers could also use it to give feedback.

The antisocial act of watching out of windows could be rebranded: tram journeys could be enjoyable breaks and moments for meditation.

Other ideas included the climate change ticket, with a price that varies according to the state of the climate, and a library tram, where people could spend time reading and borrowing books. The Science Tram could be made green: the rails of the tramway with lawn and the interior of the trams with indoor plants. It could act as a test laboratory and a platform for cross-disciplinary experiments: you could conduct experiments or take exams there. When the tram approaches a campus, an information screen or an application on your own phone could tell you what is happening at that campus at the time.

Science Tram to connect people and places

All of these ideas were created in under half an hour using the ‘random pairs’ method. To introduce the participants of the workshop to the theme, Traffic Engineer Niko Setälä provided them with some facts on the Science Tram as a part of the light rail network of Helsinki, while Designer Laura Euro discussed design perspectives on trams.

Anyone is free to steal and further refine these ideas – and you do not need to wait until 2025! In the words of Designer Laura Euro, the Science Tram could be tested in the here and now – in a tram or elsewhere.

If around ten people can come up with such exciting new ideas in just under half an hour, what could be created when tens of thousands of people meet every day in the real Science Tram, where forming connections has been made easier by means of design?

Sofia Lindqvist
Specialist in housing, health and urban affairs
Student Union of the University of Helsinki
Sofia is currently studying for a Specialist Qualification in Product Development

*Science Tram 2025 is the joint campaign of the Capital Region’s student unions’ World Student Capital network. The campaign supports the construction of a light rail line that connects 10 higher education campuses. Our goal is that construction work on the line begins by 2025. Do you want this to happen, too? Then sign the resident’s initiative for the Science Tram here as a resident of Helsinki or here as a resident of Espoo! If neither Helsinki nor Espoo is your place of residence, you cannot sign the initiative – but you can tell your friends in Helsinki or Espoo all about it. The Science Tram can also be found on Facebook.

The brainstorming workshop was a part of the City Planning Fair held at information and exhibition space Laituri on 8–13 May 2017. The Science Tram had its own exhibition stand throughout the event.


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