Finland wants rail link to Arctic Ocean
Opening of Northeast Passage would halve travel time to East Asia
A proposed rail link from Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland to Kirkenes in the north of Norway has taken centre stage in discussions on upgrading the transport network in the Arctic region.
The prospect of less ice in the Arctic Ocean through global warming means that the ocean could become more navigable. This would make it possible to open the Northeast Passage along the northern coast of Russia to more shipping.
The head of the project, Nenrik Falck of the Norwegian Tschudi shipping line, says that 34 vessels have already sailed through the passage this year. In 2010 only four ships made it through.
Kirkenes Harbour, which is owned by Tschudi, is ready to invest in an expanded seaport, but wants the Norwegian government to participate in the project.
Mikko Niini, CEO of Aker Arctic Technology, says that Russia, which has previously been less than enthusiastic about the project, has begun to understand the commercial potential of the Northeast Passage. China is also making preparations for an Arctic fleet.
By nearly halving the travel time from Western Europe to the Far East, the opening of the passage could bring considerable savings in the transport of ore from mines in Finnish Lapland.
The first phase of the rail project from Rovaniemi to Sodankylä, would be based on the needs of the mining industry. The Keivitsa nickel mine will start operations next year, and the mining company Anglo American hopes to open the Sakatti mine in ten years.
Estimates of the economic feasibility of the project are contradictory. The Finnish rail company VR does not expect that such a rail link would be profitable.
The link from Sodankylä on the Finnish side to Kirkenes, would be needed when the Stokman gas fields in the Arctic Sea start production. The European Commission published a proposal in October for a Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) project.
The Finnish government feels that global transport chains are changing because of the increased use of northerly transport routes.
Finland is not proposing the inclusion of the Arctic Ocean rail link in the TEN-T network, although MP Heikki Autto (Nat. Coalition Party) has insisted that it should.
Minister of Transport Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance) points out that even in a pan-European transport network it is the nation-states that pay for most of the projects.
Kyllönen has launched a study on rail options for the north.
Receding ice may uncover Arctic riches (24.8.2010)
European Commission Mobility and Transport: TEN-T
Finland wants stronger role in Arctic region (29.4.2009)