There is something that marks Finland and Sweden out as unusual in Europe: Although the two are neighbouring countries, what’s rare about them is that they did not have a working passenger train connection.
Despite sharing a 545-kilometre border, the railways of the two nations were not connected. But with a newly refurbished train station in the Swedish border town of Haparanda, they are a step closer to allowing for travel between the neighbouring countries.
Fans of slow travel will soon be able to journey all the way from central Europe, through Sweden and Finland, ending up in Lapland.
For the first time nearly 30 years, the two Scandinavian countries have decided to start a train connection for travelers. On April 1, a train pulled into the recently renovated Haparanda’s station. Trains can now travel between there and Luleå, a town further into Sweden.
In Lapland, it is thought that restoring the train link between Finland and Sweden could open up new opportunities for tourism. Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with travellers being more environmentally concerned, the popularity of international train travel was growing.
“The start of passenger traffic to Haparanda is strategically important for achieving cross-border traffic between Sweden and Finland,” says Nils-Olof Lindfors, deputy chairman of the board at RKM Norrbotten.
It is hoped that by the year 2023 a cross-border passenger train between the two countries will lead to long-distance travel from the south.
“This creates great opportunities both for Sweden and Finland,” says Nina Forsell, Executive Manager at the Finnish Lapland Tourist Board. “Usually, we have a lot of international guests, who arrive by plane, but now this gives them a new opportunity. Many customers come to Lapland for nature and the activities. So, taking a slow train across the border may be an alternative.”
On the Finnish side, the government is showing it commitment to eco travel by electrifying a 20-kilometre stretch from Laurila to the Swedish border. This is with the help of a €1.6 million grant it received in 2020 from the European Union.
The renewal and electrification of the railway bridge across the Tornio River is vital for the connection to materialize. Decisions to finance the project have not been made, but are eagerly awaited by the tourism industry, educational institutions and common people on both sides of the border.
The city of Tornio has expressed the hope that the area would receive a commuter train link to Oulu, connecting there to long-distance trains in the same way that travellers on the Swedish side will soon be able to do.
“This is a basic requirement for connectivity in the region,” says Sampo Kangastalo, development director for the city of Tornio. He adds, “Secondly, when services are centralised, people have to travel to get to educational institutions, hospitals and other public services, and rail transport is a very ecological way of doing this.”
Sweden and Finland are the top ranked countries in the Euromonitor International’s Sustainable Travel Index worldwide for the overall environmental and social sustainability engagement as well as for supporting an eco-friendly travel and tourism sector revival. Sweden is at the top of the list among 99 countries followed by Finland who ranked second.