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Finnish locomotive seeks Arctic port

A railway link between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes is on the Finnish-Norwegian agenda.

Industrialists in Finland eye the opening of a major trade and transport route with a projected railway connection to the Norwegian Arctic coast. Former PM Paavo Lipponen has been hired to get the Norwegians onboard.

Business interests in northern Finland have long lobbied the project, and are now increasingly successful in lifting it to the national agenda.

In a Northern Finland Strategy Paper written by two northern county adminstrations and handed over to the Finnish government in spring this year, the railway project is presented as a key priority in national Arctic policy. The paper reads that  “Finland has to make a strategic alignment together with Norway of a railway connection to Arctic Sea either to Troms or Kirkenes in order to realize the potential of the North.” The document also indicates that Norway “has expressed its willingness to discuss and promote the connection”.

Already during his state visit to Norway in 2012, Finnish President Niinistö promoted the initiative to his Norwegian counterparts and the plans have since silently made their way through government corridors. The project has also become a discussion issue in the structures of the multilateral Nordic cooperation. In a recent Nordic Council meeting, Finnish MP Eero Suutari said that the development of northbound railways “open possibilities, especially the connection to the Arctic Ocean”. Eero believes the railway would facilitate out-shipments of ore from the expanding mining industry in northern Finland and Sweden. However, also a wide range of other goods could be transported by the trains, and the regional tourism industry would benefit, experts say.


A railway line between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes is estimated to cost about €3 billion

Former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen could become a key person in the further promotion of the project. Lipponen was recently appointed by the Confederation of Finnish Industries to survey opportunities for Finnish businesses and industry in the Arctic, Arcticfinland.fi informs. He will also look at suggested alternatives for railway connections to the Arctic Sea. The survey is expected to be ready by the beginning of 2015.

On the Norwegian side, the interest in the initiative is growing, especially in the north of the country. In the town of Kirkenes, one of two likely end destinations of the line, the local municipality recently granted funding for an additional feasibility study of the project. Also in Oslo awareness is on the rise and the Liberal Party (Venstre) has officially called for closer assessment of the initiative. 

Commenting on status for the plans, Martti Hahl, a representative of the Rovaniemi-based Barents Center, maintains that enhanced Norwegian engagement is crucial for project developments. “Without the commitment and involvement of Norwegian funds and political decision-makers on the highest level, the project is not going to materialize”, he says to BarentsObserver.

Hahl argues that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, the huge €595 billion oil fund, should invest in the project.

He also underlines that the project must be seen with long perspectives, at least with a 10-30 year horizon, and that the current crisis in the regional mining industry therefore will not affect the project.

Authorities and businesses in Rovaniemi tend to prefer a line to Kirkenes before the alternative route to Skibotn, close to Tromsø. In early 2014, the northern Lapland province presented the railway project visualized with a video. The Arctic Corridor project puts its bets on the 500 km line to Kirkenes and outlines extensive shipments of oil and gas, ore, as well as goods from the Baltics and even central European countries.