A railway routing to the Arctic Ocean via Oulu, Rovaniemi and Kirkenes is the option that a new task force by Finnish and Norwegian authorities will examine further.
Minister of Transport and Communication Anne Berner announced the results of a study on the Arctic rail line on 9 March. The benefits of the route via Rovaniemi to Kirkenes are that it would improve Finland's logistical position, accessibility and security of supply. Of the two leading alternatives, the routing via Kirkenes was also less expensive.
“With the Arctic railway, Finland would no longer be an island”, the minister said.
“The Arctic railway is an important European project that would create a closer link between the northern, Arctic Europe and continental Europe. The connection would improve the conditions for many industries in northern areas. A working group will now start to further examine the routing to Kirkenes,” Minister Anne Berner notes.
“We wish to continue the excellent Norwegian-Finnish collaboration and look forward to contribute to the working group exploring further options regarding the Artic railway route from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes,” says Norway's Minister of Transport and Communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen.
Last July the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications commissioned the Transport Agency to carry out a study on the Arctic rail line together with the Norwegian transport authorities. The Transport Agency assessed the implementation and financial feasibility of five different routing alternatives.
“All the alternatives are technically feasible. However, there was a lot of variation in terms of financial aspects and environmental impacts,” says Director Matti Levomäki of the Transport Agency.
The examined routing alternatives were Tornio-Narvik, Kolari-Narvik, Kolari-Tromsø, Rovaniemi-Kirkenes and Kemijärvi-Alakurtti-Murmansk. One alternative based on the use of High Capacity Transport vehicles was also examined.
According to the study, the Arctic railway would improve Finland's logistical position and accessibility as well as promote connections with the whole of Europe. It would be an alternative transport route for Finland's imports and exports. The deep-water ports of the Arctic Ocean that are ice-free throughout the year would also open up a new connection to the Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Passage.
The studies estimate that transportation on the Arctic railway would mainly include minerals, fish products, raw wood and wood industry products. Potential material for transport are also natural resources of the Barents area and products to be transported in the future via the Northeast Passage.
The Tromsø and Kirkenes routings were found to include the highest number of potential passengers. Passenger transport volumes would mainly consist of tourist transport that is expected to continue throughout the year in the future.
The Arctic railway would also improve security of supply in Finland, because Finland would have access to an alternative route to the Baltic Sea.
Cost estimates of the routings vary significantly. The estimates are affected by the length of the new line and requirements of the terrain, for example. The overall costs of the rail lines vary between EUR 0.7–7.4 billion. Investment costs to be incurred on the Finnish side would be from EUR 0.02 to 2.3 billion.
The overall costs of the routing via Kirkenes are estimated at around EUR 2.9 billion, if the line will go from Rovaniemi via Sodankylä to Kirkenes. The overall costs of the routing from Kemijärvi via Sodankylä to Kirkenes would be EUR 2.8 billion. The investment costs of the Kirkenes routing would be around EUR 2 billion on the Finnish side and around EUR 0.9 billion on the Norwegian side.
When presenting the results of the study, director Matti Levomäki noted that assessing the socio-economic feasibility of the rail line alternatives is challenging. There is some uncertainty as to the transport potential, because one must look several decades ahead.
According to the transport volume estimate, none of the alternatives is socio-economically feasible. However, changes for example in the costs of different transport modes or in the region's business and industry may significantly change the situation.
The proposed routing would go through the Sámi homeland, and the representatives of the Sámi community have criticised the plans.
According to the study, the routing via Kirkenes will have impacts on the environment and economy as well as the industry and culture of the Sami. The studies describe the effects on reindeer husbandry and Sami people, but their extent was not assessed at this stage. These effects must be addressed in further studies.
Once further studies are commenced, guidelines for interaction with the Sami Parliament and the research work to be completed according to the Act on the Sami Parliament are to be agreed. An Akwé: Kon process in accordance with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity should be included in the work on the regional plan for Northern Lapland or carried out as a separate assignment. The purpose of the process is to examine the effects of the rail line and train transport on the Sami people and culture. In addition to the Sami Parliament, the question of the Kirkenes line will also be discussed with the Skolt village meeting.
When planning the routing alternatives, the objective has been to take the valuable nature resorts of Northern Lapland into consideration. As the planning progresses, environmental impacts must be assessed in more detail. In connection with the actual project plan, an environmental impact assessment procedure will also be completed. The assessments will be complemented with field work and surveys.
Research work on the Arctic rail line will continue together with Norway. A joint working group will be appointed to determine the further stages and schedule of the work.
The group is to examine the key questions relating to the chosen routing, such as environmental issues, permit procedures, costs, and finance structure and model. The deadline for the group’s work is 31 December 2018.
Further studies on the routing will also be included in the work on regional plan for Northern Lapland.
Development manager Timo Lohi of the Region of Northern Lapland is happy that Finland and Norway have now chosen one single routing that they will then study further.
“Now we can concentrate on this option. We will continue working on the Northern Lapland regional plan and talking with the various stakeholders.”
“This is an enormous project, and in the current plans the schedule is also very tight. We can now start reflecting on the opportunities the railway will bring for the business life in Lapland”, Timo Lohi says.
The president of the Arctic Economic Council, CEO of Arctia Ltd Tero Vauraste finds the declaration by the Finnish and Norwegian ministers an excellent response to the special opportunities in the Arctic region for Finland and for Europe in the long term.
“The Arctic railway project must be seen as a strategic European investment in the future, because it opens new opportunities for sustainable growth and it will develop the transport infrastructures in a sustainable way. Based on the study now published, the Kirkenes routing is a strong option, and also from the viewpoints of the European TEN-T network and the gradually opening Northeast Passage”, Tero Vauraste affirms.
Photo (c) Arctic Centre, Risto Viitanen
You can find the press release of the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Finnish Transport Agency here.