Lapland Regional Council rejects Arctic railway

The decision likely ends the prospect of a proposed rail link from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - May 17, 2021
The railway station in Rovaniemi would have been one terminus of the proposed new route. (Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer)

The Regional Council of Lapland, Finland’s northernmost province, on Monday decided to rewrite the draft provincial plan for the period until 2040.

This time the plan should not include the Arctic railway line, the regional politicians decided in the 43-to-3 vote.

The proposed railway would stretch about 500 kilometers from Finland’s existing rail network in Rovaniemi to the Arctic Ocean at Kirkenes, a Norwegian port on the Barents Sea.

Lapin Liitto, the regional authorities, writes on its portal from the meeting that the Arctic Railway became the key issue in the debate. Authorities emphasized the influence of new arguments against the project, primarily conflicts with Sámi interests, but also the railway’s lack of economic sense.

Lapland Regional Council has previously supported the construction of such a railway.

In a 2019 vote, the council said studies should be made to determine whether the railway should go on the east or west side of Lake Inari before crossing the border to Norway. The last 50 kilometers of the line would be on the Norwegian side of the border.

The Arctic railway’s negative impact on Sámi culture in northern Finland was the main reason why the majority of the council members have changed their minds.

The decision was welcomed in Inari, the northernmost Finnish municipality included in the possible routing of the railway.

Former President of the Sámi Parliament, Tiina Sanila-Aikio, sent a thank you tweet: “Thank you all that have said no to the Arctic Railway!”

She also thanked everyone who has worked against the railway and stayed in support of Sámi rights and nature.

Previously, the Barents Observer reported strong objections from both the Norwegian and Finnish Sámi Parliaments.

“A railroad will influence swamps, grazing areas, rivers all way between Kirkenes and Rovaniemi,” Sanila-Aikio said.

In 2019, a Finnish-Norwegian working group said cargo volumes are too small to justify the costs, and neither the Finnish nor the Norwegian governments have such a railway between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes on their infrastructure priority lists.