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For Finland, the path to Arctic goes by rail

Ambassador Maimo Henriksen wants Finland and Norway to take joint steps in the Arctic.

There is an “increasingly lively discussion” in Helsinki about the possible construction of a railway line through Finnish Lapland to the Norwegian Arctic coast, the Finnish ambassador to Norway says.

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Talking at today’s Kirkenes Conference, Ambassador Maimo Henriksson confirmed that leading politicians and industrialists in the Finnish capital now with increasing interest look at a possible grand railway project between Finland and Norway. The line would be a link not only between Arctic waters and the Nordic markets, but also with markets in Central Europe, Ambassador Henriksson said.

The ambassador pinpointed the need for a new bilateral Finnish-Norwegian partnership in Arctic, an initiative which would include a major stress on transport and logistics. Also the European Union should be included in the process, Henriksson argues.

The idea about a new Finnish Norwegian railway has been maturing over several years. When visiting Norway in 2012, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö had the Arctic on top of his agenda and in talks with the Norwegian hosts underlined the railway idea. By that time, several feasibility studies of the project had been conducted, including a report issued by an inter-municipal council in Finnish Lapland and the Kirkenes Business Park.

One of the preferred routes for the new line would be between the Finnish city of Rovaniemi and Kirkenes on the Barents Sea coast. That line would be up to 550 km long and cost up to €3 billion, including up to €800 million on the Norwegian side.

Commenting on the railway plans, Martti Hahl from the Barents Center in Rovaniemi says that the idea is now actively lobbied not only in Helsinki, but also in Brussels.

“There is a strong interest in this project in northern Finland”, he maintains, adding that the regional authorities in Lapland and Northern Ostrobotnia are actively lobbying the initiative both on the level of the Finnish prime minister and the Foreign Ministry. In addition, also Brussels is about to open its eyes, he argues.

According to Hahl, the planning of the project must start now if implementation is to be launched in 10, 15 or 30 years. He believes up to 20 percent of the project investments could be covered by EU funding. The remaining part can be covered by various sources, among them possibly the Norwegian Pension Fund, he says.

The Finnish side now with increasing eagerness calls for enhanced engagement also on the Norwegian side. In this week’s Kirkenes Conference, as many as 25 Finnish enterprises are represented, many of them eyeing a vitalization of Finnish-Norwegian relations. “Northern Norway must wake up now”, Hahn says. “The driving force behind this initiative must be based in the region itself”, he adds.