Transporting materials from remote parts of northern Finland is a logistics challenge with a few extra hurdles—extreme temperatures and icebergs in the harbors, among them. But the steady rise in global temperatures over recent years has thawed out a path to a new shipping option.
A proposed Arctic railway line across the northern reaches of the Nordic countries could make it possible to transport heavy cargoes such as mineral ore from the landlocked region of Rovaniemi, Finland, to ports like Kirkenes and Narvik on Norway's Arctic coastline, which are newly accessible thanks to warmer water that's keeping ice at bay for longer periods. Currently, oceanbound shipments have to travel overland to the southern coasts of Finland or Sweden, in the busy Gulf of Bothnia, to reach the sea.
Three developments have converged to encourage this modern version of the Polar Express, according to business leaders who spoke at a February conference on Arctic development, held in Kirkenes, Norway.
First, new ocean shipping routes have opened up as Arctic sea ice melts. Second, Finnish and Swedish mining engineers have developed rich deposits of valuable ores, which then have to be hauled out. And third, rising global demand for fuel could make it profitable to use the railway as a "rolling pipeline" to deliver Norwegian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to European markets in the south, according to Felix Tschudi, chief executive officer of the Tschudi Shipping Co. AS, of Oslo, Norway.
Other cargoes that might benefit from the new trade route include export commodities from the Baltic countries and natural gas from Russian oil companies, planners said.