Freight and passenger infrastructure is a hot topic all over the Nordic region, but there is little light at the end of the tunnel for the railway systems, which are poorly maintained and crying out for investment. This was the clear message from the annual Elmia Nordic Future Transport Summit in Jönköping.
“We have the money, the technology, the need and the environmental arguments. All that is missing is the political will,” the Head of the Secretariat at the Värmland-Østfold Border Committee, Alf Johansen, told the conference to a round of applause.
Johansen talked about a high-speed rail link between Oslo and Gothenburg, just one of many examples where transport infrastructure would benefit from the countries working more closely together and sharing an understanding of future needs.
We have the money, the technology, the need and the environmental arguments. All that is missing is the political will
The main focus of the Elmia Nordic Future Transport Summit is on the future of cross-border collaboration in areas such as funding, skills development, research and innovation. Speakers made it abundantly clear that the absence of any of the Nordic transport ministers was a matter of some regret. They had all been invited.
“It’s a shame that the Nordic ministers have not prioritised Elmia. This is where the infrastructure of the future is discussed and developed. They would have had a chance to talk about more than just what each country is doing. It would be far more interesting to hear what they want to do together,” says Johan Lindblad, Senior Adviser to the Nordic Council.
Forestry is one of the industries that is feeling the consequences of wear and tear and lack of co-operation, but the lack of adequate freight infrastructure has adverse effects on business in general. The transport director for the forestry industry in Sweden, Karolina Boholm, reported that average transport-related costs for the industry are over 20%. On top of that, prices are going up while the quality of rail freight is falling.
“Old and worn-out infrastructure causes problems for everybody involved. This leads to higher costs and lower profitability and, in turn, to lower investment and even more problems. The railways are trapped in a vicious downward spiral, and only widespread maintenance work will improve things. After that, new investment will also be needed,” she says.
Boholm also noted that she was talking about the same problem she had addressed back in 2012. For the railways, the trends are all going in the wrong direction, despite industry making it clear that a good train system is vital.
The Nordic Council of Ministers’ Action Plan for Mobility 2019-21 calls on the Ministers for Co-operation to ask the appropriate ministers to meet at least once in 2019, the idea being to identify shared objectives and to assess whether it is appropriate to establish an ad-hoc Council of Ministers for Transport. Such a meeting has yet to take place.
All 87 members of the Council have also asked the Nordic governments to resurrect a Council of Ministers for Transport. The response was negative.
The Nordic Council has also demanded to meet the ministers several times since 2016 but to no avail. This has elicited a response from the transport rapporteur to the Nordic Council Committee for Growth and Development, Stein-Erik Lauvås.
“There seems to be no real willingness to think about strategy and plan transport infrastructure at Nordic level. The countries are all busy with their own big projects. Maybe they’ve forgotten what the Helsinki Treaty says about transport,” he sighs.
He is referring to Article 26 of the Treaty, which states that the Nordic countries “shall endeavour to consolidate previously initiated co-operative efforts in the field of transport and communications and seek to develop this co-operation with a view to facilitating transport and communication links and the exchange of goods between the Nordic countries and to finding appropriate solutions to any problems that may exist in this field”.
The countries are all busy with their own big projects. Maybe they’ve forgotten what the Helsinki Treaty says about transport