The Arctic Link is a proposed rail connection between northern Finland and Arctic Norway, with the potential to later include Murmansk in Northern Russia. It is hoped to improve Scandinavia’s trade links to China via the Northern Sea Route.
A recent Finnish study has found that a 500-kilometer railway link Rovaniemi with Norway’s coastal city of Kirkenes will be the most feasible route to boosting bilateral trade, obtaining an Arctic connection and, arguably most important, making use of the soaring trade potential with China via the Arctic Ocean.
Finnish Transport Minister Anne Berner has also said that the Rovaniemi-Kirkenes railway would significantly improve Finland’s logistical position, accessibility, and the security of its supplies, while also stating that the route to the Kirkenes still requires joint research. The initial reception, however, indicates the route provides a welcome alternative route to the Baltic Sea. This in turn will give access to the Baltic States as well as onward to Germany and beyond.
The decision to select the Kirkenes route was taken jointly with Norwegian officials, including Berner’s Norwegian counterpart Ketil Solvik-Olsen, who also hailed the emerging opportunities for the European Arctic.
“The Arctic link is an important project, as it would more securely connect the continental countries of Europe with Arctic areas. A railway connection would improve the commercial prospects of several businesses in the northern area”, Berner has said.
The route connecting Rovaniemi with Kirkenes via the Finnish city of Sodankylä, was estimated to carry a price tag of €2.9 billion, of which Finland would pay about €2 billion, with Norway contributing the remainder. Berner also stressed that the study has taken things like reindeer husbandry and environmental issues into consideration. In the future, the railway will be discussed in more detail with the indigenous Sami population, an ancient European tribal people who have long settled in the region.
“For the north, this would mean a connection to the Arctic Ocean, and for the south, a connection to the European rail network via the proposed Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel and the Rail Baltica network. The Arctic Ocean Railway should therefore be seen as part of the global transport system”, the Finnish study concluded.
On the Norwegian side, expectations are just as high, with analysts describing the Northern Sea Route as likely to become the new “main road” between Europe and Asia. Sør-Varanger’s Norwegian Mayor Rune Rafaelsen also said he was particularly looking forward to the link to the Asian market, and above all that of China.
“Major decisions are required, there are huge costs, and one must have huge goods volumes to defend such an investment. I believe this is perfectly feasible, but the prerequisite is that you use the Northern Sea Route”, Rafaelsen said.
The Kirkenes variant was preferred to four alternatives, one of which included a direct railway to Russia’s Murmansk, the world’s largest Arctic port and the starting point of the Northern Sea route.
“I am sure Murmansk will be considered as a European rail route to Arctic Sea Port at a later stage”, says Chris Devonshire-Ellis of Dezan Shira & Associates, and Professor of Practice at Russia’s Higher School of Economics. At present, the issue is just getting the Norway-Sweden routes approved. Later when the EU-Russian political situation has calmed down, the Murmansk spur will come back on the agenda.”
China has been very active in getting involved in the Arctic routes and recently declared itself a “Near-Arctic Nation”. China has also been funding Russian port developments along the Arctic coastline.
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