Minister of Transport and Communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen. Photo: Torstein Boe/NTB scanpix
Minister of Transport and Communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen. Photo: Torstein Boe/NTB scanpix

Norway’s transport minister says he’s “very positive” towards a Finnish plan for an Arctic rail link between the two countries that could also serve as a gateway for China’s Belt and Road project.

“It is very important and in our interest to develop Kirkenes and the Varanger region as a logistics hub, and with new roads, the railway and sea ports the pieces all fall in place,” Norwegian Transport and Communications Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen told the Independent Barents Observer during a visit to northern Norway last week.

Solvik-Olsen told the online publication that he has had very good contacts with his counterpart, Finnish Transport Minister Anne Berner, on the project. He says Norwegian railway officials have also been told that “this is to be followed up.”

“I am very positive,” Solvik-Olsen stressed to the Barents Observer.

He was responding to a Finnish plan for a US$3.4 billion “Arctic Corridor” railway that would connect Northern Europe with Russia, China and Arctic Ocean deep-water ports. Asia Times has reported that the idea is being pitched by a group of Finnish academics and business leaders. It would connect the city of Rovaniemi in northern Finland with the Norwegian port of Kirkenes on the Barents Sea.

Ships could move goods from China as well as oil and gas from Arctic fields in Russia westward along the Northern Sea Route to Kirkenes. Cargos would be offloaded to the railway and sent southward through rail connections to Scandinavia, Helsinki, the Baltic states and the rest of Europe.

“The Arctic Corridor project sees (Belt and Road) as very important as it provides an alternative to connect Asia with the Arctic and Europe,” Timo Lohi, a spokesman for the Arctic Corridor project, told Asia Times.

The plan is still in the discussion stage. Finland’s Transport Agency was reportedly instructed in July to draft a report that explores various aspects of the project, including potential trade flows, possible rail lines, business models and demand.

Corridor backers are also seeking possible Chinese financing for the project. If all goes well, construction on the rail link could begin by the early 2030s.