“This is a big day,” the mayor in Norway’s northern city of Kirkenes, Rune Rafaelsen, proclaimed after transport authorities in Finland said they want to move forward with plans for cargo train service between Rovaniemi and Kirkenes. They view Kirkenes as the best potential port for ongoing shipping routes through the Northeast Passage between Europe and Asia.
While many bemoan melting ice in the Arctic, business interests see new opportunities as the seas north of the Russian mainland open up in the summer months. The Northeast Passage has been promoted by business and political leaders in Kirkenes for years, and rail connections from Finland would be a major breakthrough.
It’s likely to take many more years before any concrete plans are carried out. The project is expected to cost at least NOK 35 billion and faces many regulatory and environmental challenges. Called the “Arctic Corridor,” however, it would connect what Finland calls “Arctic Europe” with central Europe. “We’d get a route from Kirkenes to Berlin,” Anne Berner, Finland’s government minister in charge of traffic and communications, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Berner’s Norwegian counterpart, Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, was also positive and hopes the project can become a reality. “A rail connection between Finland and Northern Norway would bring great opportunities for growth and development in the northern areas,” Solvik-Olsen told NRK. He added that Norway would contribute to a “working group” that will evaluate the next steps for preparing the train line.