The BarentsObserver reported on 27 of November that the state-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) will join the development of Belkomur, the railway connection between Perm and Arkhangelsk. The turning point in revitalizing the fifteen years old idea of establishing the connection was a meeting of Komi governor Aleksandr Burov with Chinese government and business representatives in Shanghai on 23 of November. The realisation of Belkomur project, with a price label of €15 billion, would signify a shorter connection between the Urals and the North-West of Russia, allowing a new route for trans-Siberian cargo.
Besides being a Russian-Chinese endeavour, Belkomur calls forth ambitions among the western neighbouring countries of Russia. Along with a new start of lobbying for the Belkomur project in 2007, an initiative called “Barents Link Forum” was brought to light. The aim of the initiative was to put forward the so-called Barents Link Corridor as a continuation of the Belkomur train connection, uniting the ports of Scandinavia with the trans-Siberian link. Originally, the initiative was taken by the Joint Authority of Kainuu Region, although it succeeded to build up a network of actors throughout the Barents region: the local administrations of the Republic of Karelia, Komi and the Arkhangelsk region as well as partners from Finland, Sweden and Norway.
The idea of the Barents Link initiative was also to help Russian partners to cope with the increasing traffic to the country’s own ports in the North-West of Russia. The Russian federal government to some extent backed it. As a manifestation of sympathy to the idea, the so-called Northern Corridor was included in the traffic strategy of the Russian Federation and was chosen as a target of development of the railway network.
Also, recent news from BarentsObserver reported that the Northern Maritime Corridor (NMC) is at bay. The purpose of this project was to coordinate cargo transport on sea between Russian North and Northern Europe. The project coordinator Vladimir Kharlov was quoted to say that test journeys have not brought forth expected results because of high port prices in Russian North. Moreover, the Russian government’s decision to withdraw the plans to establish the Murmansk Transport Hub will have a negative effect on the prospects of sea transport.
What if there was a competing link, the Barents Link, as an alternative for cargo from the centre of Russia and farther east? If successful, such a new link connecting Russian railways from Arkhangelsk to Finland and Scandinavia could increase competition with sea cargo and thus make Northern Russian ports to lower their prices and authorities to reduce bureaucracy. This is not only wishful thinking, since the infrastructure for such a railroad already exists. What is more, the gauge of the railroads on both sides of the Russian-Finnish border is the same; the gauge of railways will be problem only when extended the connection to Sweden and Norway.
What the Barents Link initiative would need is a high profile political and economic support. The Barents Link does not need to wait until the Russian-Chinese Belkomur development will materialize. It is the right moment to jump on the bandwagon and start again lobbying for the railroad link from Siberia to Scandinavia.