High North Dialogue 2021 opened with a discussion about the potential building of the Northern Norway Railway, a massive investment which would prolong the railway line from Bodø to Tromsø.
"Politics is about prioritization, and I think there is perhaps a need to prioritize other things like ferries, roads, and public transportation. I would start with prioritizing that before this railway", said Nicole Natalie Furnes, member of the governmental High North Whitepaper Youth Panel.
Bus tickets and ferries
"It sounds quite uncertain, really. But I think it is important to do the proper evaluaton and the case studies," Furnes added.
She was echoed by Øyvind Johan Olsen, also a member of the Youth Panel, emphasizing that the investment involves a lot of money.
"I think it is smart to prioritize transportation nearer to where people live first; the transportation that we who live in the north of Norway use in our daily life," Olsen said.
Earlier today, the Norwegian Parliament approved a proposal stating that the government should start working on realizing the Northern Norway line, the majority vote secured by the opposition.
People and products
Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of the largest opposition party, the Labour Party, which helped secure the decision, participated in the debate.
"We believe that the objective of having a continued railroad infrastructure in the North should be on the agenda. We know that getting to the construction of a railway in the north needs proper preparations. The north of Norway has not really been debated in an innovative way when it comes to transporation infrastructure; how we get people and products around," Støre said and added:
"This is a region in which we have massive transport of products from the sea, and we have tourists coming in. We need to reconsider how that infrastructure is developed. We have an objective of seeing a railroad expansion in the north, and therefore we need to bring it into the national transport system."
Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg said the government has started working on a concept study for transport solutions in Northern Norway. That work will go on until 2023, looking at, amongst other things, constructing a Northern Norway railway line. She argues, however, that a railway might not be the best solution.
"The areas are scarecely populated, with people living on the islands and on the coastline, and there will be a lot of other things that are in need of a transport system in Northern Norway. We need a plan for the totality of this, and to look into whether train is the right solution for this problem. Most of the products, for example from fisheries, will not be close to any railway; they will be rather far from it."
"A train might be a solution, but I would like to see the concept study done throughly on all of the needs for building a better infrastructure system to make sure people want to live there. That we will see value creation and jobs in the future. I'm not sure I would argue that we should decide on which type of tranpprtation before we decide which is the best one, and what the alternatives are," Solberg added.
Concerned reindeer herders
High North News asked President of the Sami Parliament Aili Keskitalo what she thinks about the recent majority for the North Norway line.
"The North Norway line scares us. During the debate here, I have heard from reindeer herders in Nordland who are very concerned. The collisions on Saltfjellet have gotten worse, and every reindeer massacre is a huge strain for the herd and the reindeer herders, both mentally and practically.
Is it possible to reach a compromise?
"Yes, put the railway in a tunnel," says Keskitalo.
The theme for this year's conference is "Business in the Arctic – Perspectives of the young"