Full migration to standard gauge out of the picture for Finland
The costs of migrating the whole Finnish TEN-T network from 1,524 mm gauge to the European standard are far greater than the possible benefits deeming such an option unfeasible. A viable alternative would be the construction of a new standard gauge mainline from Helsinki to Tornio alongside the existing central axis. On top of that, another suggestion would be that some new railway lines are built directly with standard gauge in the future.
The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications drew these conclusions in a recent feasibility report. “According to estimates, ” said the ministry, “shifting the whole Finnish TEN-T network to the standard European gauge will negatively impact transport service levels, especially for transporting raw wood and other industrial goods”.
The discussion in Finland regarding a possible shift to the European standard railway gauge (1,435 mm) has been going on since July 2022, when the EU Commission proposed that all new TEN-T railway lines should be built with a standard gauge. Finland fiercely opposed this proposal, with the transport minister Timo Harakka stating that “Finland does not accept these changes to the rail gauge, and I believe that our views will be heard during further discussions”.
In any case, all TEN-T countries were required to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the transition and, according to it, decide whether they would proceed with the proposal. For Finland, building all new TEN-T lines with a 1,435 mm gauge is not a feasible scenario, and the ministry underlined once again that the country should be free to decide and continue using the broad gauge line.
A standard gauge mainline
Nevertheless, the Finnish came up with some alternatives. For instance, a possible solution would be to build a standard gauge mainline connecting Helsinki with Tornio on the border with Sweden. This standard gauge line will run alongside the existing broad gauge line connecting the two locations and link directly to the Swedish railway network without any track or bogie changes. In this way, the European gauge line will cross almost the whole country from south to north and link important economic centres relevant to freight and passenger traffic.
On top of that, Finland proposed some new projects like the Suomirata, the Turku One Hour Train and the Itärata Eastern rail link, to be built directly with standard gauge. However, this will not be the case for all new railway projects in the country. Especially the latter, the Itärata Eastern rail link, constructed with standard gauge, would be a good solution for better and faster connectivity towards the east as the line is expected to link Helsinki with Kouvola. Kouvola is a growing logistics hub in Finland, and in this way, it would find connections to the rest of Europe. On top of that, this line could contribute to better military mobility, considering Finland is officially the latest NATO member.