Speaking at this week’s Kirkenes Conference, Minister Marit Arnstad confirmed that she is ready to look at new railway infrastructure projects in the Barents Region.
“If state authorities in our neighboring countries take up this initiative together with commercial stakeholders, then we will look at it”, Arnstad said.
Strong political and economic interests in Finland now look towards the North for the country’s radpidly developing, and increasingly landlocked, mining industry. As previously reported, Arctic cooperation, including in the field of infrastructure, was top agenda issue during Finnish President Sauli Niinistö state visit to Norway last October.
According to Mikko Niini, President of the Aker Arctic company, there is currently a “huge discussion” in Finland about the possibility to construct a railway line to the Arctic coast. In his presentation at the Kirkenes Conference, Niini displayed a picture showing a line between Finnish Rovaniemi and Norwegian Kirkenes.
If built, the new railway line would open a new export route for the big mining operators in northern Finland. While the alternative route through the Botnia Bay and Baltic Sea is increasingly crowded by vessels, the exports from a Norwegian Arctic port would provide safe and open access to the world markets. Furthermore, as the Arctic ice melts, the Finnish ore could easily be shipped also eastwards along the Northern Sea Route.
As previously reported, a new study evaluating the prospects of an Arctic railway from Rovaniemi in northern Finland to the North-Norway coastal town of Kirkenes shows a large potential. The estimates conclude that there could be a market for up to 40 daily trains from Finland to the Barents Sea coast.
According to Claus Bergersen, a business expert from the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, the Finnish-Norwegian railway could provide not only for the export of Finnish ore, but also for the imports of LNG. For Norway, a railway line to Kirkenes would have wide-reaching positive consequences for the region and turn Kirkenes into a major logistical hub, Bergersen says to BarentsObserver.
The position is shared by Oddgeir Danielsen, leader of the Helsinki-based Northern Dimension Partnership for Transport and Logistics (NDPTL). “The Rovaniemi - Kirkenes line would make it possible to do railroad transport between the Arctic region and Central Europe going straight through several countries”.
The new railway would revive a century-long Finnish plan. Already in the 19th century, when Finland was part of the Russian empire, Finnish strategic planners promoted the idea to build a railway line to Arctic coast. Then, the end destination of the line was the Pechenga Bay. Today, it is Kirkenes, the Norwegian town located only few kilometers from the Russian border, which is on the table of the Finnish planners.