Government proposes authorisation to the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency to issue orders on technical requirements for virtual cables in ferry traffic

Press release 13.01.2022 13.22 fi sv en

The Government is proposing a legislative amendment that would allow cable ferries to be increasingly controlled by means of a virtual guiding cable instead of a physical cable. The Government submitted its proposal to Parliament on 13 January 2022.

As the size of cable ferries has increased over the decades, the physical guiding cable has lost its importance as the system steering the cable ferry. Today, physical cables only serve as visual assistance to the ferry operator. Existing cable ferries are already technically equipped to use a so-called virtual cable instead of the conventional physical cable. The virtual steering system shows the location of the ferry in relation to the centre line of the ferry lane, and provides visual assistance and audio signals to help the operator to keep the ferry in the lane.

The Government proposes that the Act on the Transport System and Highways, which also contains provisions on ferries, be amended. The amendment would involve authorising the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency to issue orders. The objective is to have the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom specify the key technical requirements in terms of traffic safety for the conventional guiding cable and the virtual cable replacing it.

The government proposal was circulated for comments between 27 October and 24 November 2021. The contributors were in favour of the proposed amendment. It was noted during the consultation round that for safety improvement purposes, it would be useful to review the competence requirements of ferry operators and the definition of ferry. These matters will be discussed in another project aimed at reforming the regulatory framework for cable ferry services.

Safer, more economic and more ecological cable ferry services with virtual cables

A virtual cable increases the safety of cable ferry traffic. Unlike the physical cable, a virtual cable may be used throughout the year, also in ice conditions and while the cable ferry and the ferry lane are under repair. It is more economical to operate the ferry without a physical cable. A virtual cable has a lesser impact on the seabed under the ferry lane than a metal cable that stirs up the bottom sediment and removes nutrients.

A virtual cable is currently in use on the Bergö ferry in the Kvarken in the Gulf of Bothnia and the Arvinsalmi ferry in Liperi. The system was developed for the Bergö ferry lane where the cable repeatedly became stuck on rocks on the seafloor sections and broke. The Finnish highway network has a total of 33 cable ferries, most of them located in the archipelago of Southwest Finland and the lake areas of Eastern Finland. Ferry crossings amount to 750,000–800,000 kilometres annually.

The legislative amendment will promote the achievement of the objectives set out in the national transport system plan, or the Transport 12 plan. According to the Transport 12 plan, the state improves the economic efficiency of the ferry fleet, reduces emissions, and assesses and implements legislative changes necessitated by technological development.

What next?

A referral debate will be held on the proposal now submitted by the Government to Parliament. The timetable for the debate will be listed on Parliament’s website (upcoming plenary sessions). After the referral debate, the proposal will be sent to the Transport and Communications Committee. Once the committee’s report is ready, the matter will be discussed in a plenary session again. The Act amending section 6 of the Act on the Transport System and Highways is due to come into force on 28 February 2022.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications has decided to launch another project to reform the regulations on cable ferry services. This reform aims to improve traffic safety and assess the need to review cable ferry operators’ competence requirements and the definition of ferry.

Inquiries:

Eeva Ovaska, Senior Specialist, tel. +358 295 342 113, eeva.ovaska(at)gov.fi