When the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications chose a solution for the new port in Kirkenes, it also had the railway between Rovaniemi, Finland and Kirkenes in mind. – We are now awaiting a concrete initiative from the Finnish authorities, says State Secretary Tom Cato Carlsen.
- I believe we will have a “bonanza” in Kirkenes once we get an impulse from Finland, says Karlsen.
He says the Ministry of Transport has long been positive to development and new railway thinking.
- Nevertheless, large parts of the railway between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes will be on the Finnish side of the border. If Finland commits to doing its part to make this railway happen, we will be ready on the Norwegian side too, the State Secretary says.
When the decision was made about the new port in Høybukta, Kirkenes, the idea of a potential future railway was part of the decision process.
- Both the airport, the E6 road and the proximity to a potential railway was part of the considerations when we chose the concept for the port, Karlsen says.
Rambøl has made an economic assessment of railway extension in Finland, just like they have for Norway. The process is thus beginning to roll.
- I met with the Finnish Minister of Transport and Communication Anne Berner a few weeks ago. She was clearly positive and asked what we are thinking regarding an arctic railway, he says.
Karlsen believes that a perspective for the project will be coming soon.
- During my three years with the Department, I have seen an increasing enthusiasm for this railway development. And now that China has registered its interest, where they have drawn the railway up as an alternative to the infrastructure towards the Northern Sea Route, we are heading towards exciting times in the High North, the State Secretary says.
Karlsen believes China’s interest lies in saving times on freight from Europe to Asia.
- I believe we can cut at least 24 hours in pure sailing time for shipping from Kirkenes to Asia, compared with for instance Narvik – Asia. And goods shipped from Kirkenes will take six and a half day to reach Korea. That is relatively fast, Karlsen says.
He argues there will be large changes in development in the High North should Kirkenes enter into a railway cooperation with Rovaniemi.
- One thing is a faster route to Asia. Another aspect is security, which is on the mind of many. There is less conflict along the Northern Sea Route, for instance with regards to fewer pirates. Of course, sailing in the Barents Sea can be hazardous, however, the hazard is related to other kinds of challenges, the State Secretary says.
Exciting with Chinese interest
Karlsen finds it interesting to note that China is also in on the idea of an Arctic railway.
- They seem to think the way we do. This route may change the transportation flow in Europe, and I believe there will be positive synergy effects towards Russia too, rather than competition with the port in Murmansk. They do, for instance, have icebreakers, he says.
Nevertheless, there is one challenge that keeps the project in suspense.
- The challenge is funding on the Finnish side. If there is not sufficient funding for this project, then it will not happen, Karlsen says.
High North News is in touch with Anne Berner about the railway plans.
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