How to continue with the rail line from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes?


As could be observed, the project of a railroad from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes has been put on hold, because of not being economically viable with the currently predicted amounts of freight volume. Passenger service, which would be expected to happen on this line, would be so little that it cannot contribute a large share, so the justification of the product has to come from freight traffic.

Just to address a common misunderstanding: It is not possible and not likely and not the idea of the project, to replace a large share of traffic going from China or other parts of China to European countries like Germany, France, Italy, that are far away from Kirkenes. A reasonable goal would be to cover a large part of trade between Finland, northern Norway, northern Sweden and a bit from the Baltic countries and Russian areas near the northern Finnish border. So the countries having the rail line would mostly profit from it, in the case of Finland of course including the more densly populated south. Slogans that predict that Kirkenes will become the „new Rotterdam of the north“ are exaggerated or have to be read like „Kirkenes will be for Northern Europe what Rotterdam is for the rest of Europe“.

Also there seems to be resistance from the Sámi people. I have a hard time accepting their style of arguing that this rail line would be a genocide, because this word may well be used for circumstances that destroy a culture and a people without physically killing it, but not for building a single rail line in an area that is already accessible by roads. The argument is, that the line would cut the grassing areas of reindeer and thus destroy the traditional culture of reindeer herding. Why should a rail line that is running near the Russian border have such an effect? The area already has a road network that cuts the area in parts or endangers the animals crossing them and the border between Norway or Finland and Russia, which is not very open. It is possible to build short tunnel sections in a railroad line to allow animals to cross, even without mountains that would require tunnels. Bridges would also be possible. This is something that is sometimes done for new roads and railroad in some countries, for example in Switzerland. It would of course be necessary to provide such crossings for this rail line as well. Why not for the roads? It is assumed that road vehicles can stop on sight when animals are on the road, which is not possible for trains, so a fence and safe crossings would be needed. I do not know if this was offered as part of the plan. Unfortunately the Sami representatives do not seem to show any willingness to compromises.

Freight traffic that could be performed by the railroad is still taking place, partially by trucks on the roads, partially on other railroad lines. An expanded port of Kirkenes could have a high percentage of its land transport done by rail, because rail transport is efficient for long distances with a single point like a port as destination. And the sea routes could be shorter as well when crossing the northern Atlantic or circumnavigating northern Siberia and the Bering Strait to East Asia and the North American Pacific coast.

Many factors are hard to predict or change with time. So it could prove that this project is a good choice for Finland and Norway.

The next best alternative would be to build a line to Murmansk, which also has a mostly iceless port with good potential connections across the Atlantic and to eastern Asia. This line would be much cheaper to build, because most of it exists or existed, requiring reconstruction of only 200 km vs. more than 450 km to Kirkenes. The advantage of Kirkenes is that currently Norway and Finland are closer neighbors with open borders, so it might be a bit better to use this variant if it can be paid. Even a connection from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes could be built via Russia using existing tracks and requiring only the construction of much less new tracks. Now Russia can be considered to be a reliable neighbor of Finland and Norway, when it comes to such trade routes, but a direct connection that goes only through Norway and Finland might be worth investing a bit more.

Of course Finland does have rail connections to the rest of Europe even today via Sweden and Russia and it does have useful ports in the Baltic Sea coast. They are just not as convenient for long distance trade, especially in winter.


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