A passenger train at Rovaniemi's central station in Finland. Photo: iStock

An ambitious plan to build a railway between Rovaniemi in Finland and Kirkenes in Norway that would serve as an Arctic gateway for China’s Belt and Road project has beaten other competing proposals and has been selected by Finnish and Norwegian transport officials for further study. The link is designed to connect northern Europe with China and Russia’s Arctic Ocean deep-water ports.

Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications said on March 9 that the US$3.4 billion plan, drafted by a group of Finnish academics and business leaders, is the one that best addresses the country’s logistical, accessibility and supply-security issues. The proposal for a routing to the Arctic Ocean via Oulu, Rovaniemi and Kirkenes was also found to be less costly.

“The Arctic railway is an important European project that would create a closer link between 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,” Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner said in a statement.

On the Norwegian side, Norway’s Minister of Transport and Communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen said: “We wish to continue the excellent Norwegian-Finnish collaboration and look forward to contributing to the working group exploring further options regarding the Arctic railway route from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes

Finland asked its transport officials last July to conduct feasibility studies for an Arctic rail line together with Norwegian transport authorities. Its transport agency weighed 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,” Director Matti Levomaki, the director of Finland’s Transport Agency said in a statement.

The competing plans were from other cities that wanted an Arctic railway linked to Russia’s Northern Sea Route and China. They included Tromso and Narvik in Norway and Murmansk in northwestern Russia. An alternative plan based on using high-capacity transport vehicles was also considered.

Next steps

Finland and Norway are expected to cooperate on researching the project’s next phase. A joint working group is also expected to be created to decide on the project’s next stages and work schedules. Issues such as optimal routing, environmental impacts, permit procedures, costs and financial models will also be examined. Work on this phase of the project is expected to be finished by December 31, 2018.

If all goes well, backers hope to have the railway completed by 2030.

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