Norway positive to Finland’s Arctic railway plan

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - April 14, 2017
The rail station in Rovaniemi, Finland. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)
The rail station in Rovaniemi, Finland. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Railway development is among the key priorities in the Norwegian National Transport Plan, the government infrastructure strategy covering the period 2018-2029. That includes also Northern Norway.

The Transport Plan states that a thorough study on the cost benefit value on extending the national railway grid to Tromsø, the largest city in northern Norway, is to be conducted. Currently, the grid ends in Bodø and an extension to Tromsø would include 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) of new line.

In addition, the infrastructure strategy includes positive signals about a possible railway line from Roveniemi, Finland, to Kirkenes, the Norwegian town on the Barents Sea coast.

“If Finnish state authorities take the initiative to assess a railway connection between Finland and Kirkenes, then Norwegian authorities are positive to contribute,” the transport plan reads.

Finnish authorities have over several years expressed growing interest in the connection to Kirkenes.

In October 2015, Olli Rehn, former EU commissioner, now Finnish Minister of Economics, underlined that “we want a railway connection between Berlin and the Arctic Ocean.”

Later the same year, former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen in a memorandum to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker underlined that “it is high time for the EU to secure its logistic access to the Arctic Ocean by launching a project for a railroad connection from Southern Finland to Kirkenes, Norway, the last ‘missing link’ in EU South-North traffic network.”

Also Finnish premier Juha Sipilä has openly expressed interest in the project. In a radio interview last year, he even indicated that the infrastructure connection could become a priority issue for the country’s upcoming chairmanship in the Arctic Council.

The line between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes would be up to 550 kilometers (340 miles) long and cost an estimated €3 billion (about $3.18 billion), including up to €800 million (about $850 million) on the Norwegian side.

The initiative comes at the same time as plans for a major new sea port in Kirkenes are in the pipeline. Local and state authorities recently came together over a suitable site in a fjord west of the Kirkenes town. That site will include also a railway station, the plan elaborators say.