Finland - Developing The International Freight InfrastructureFinland - Developing The International Freight Infrastructure

The Finnish economy has been affected by the global economic downturn, with a contraction of 0.5% expected for 2009. Nevertheless the freight services infrastructure is being radically overhauled to prepare for future growth, with significant development plans underway at both Finland's main ports.

Although exports of specialised steel products, mining equipment and container handling machinery are still relatively strong in Finland, the paper industry is experiencing difficulties. Facing a double whammy of slowing consumer demand and overproduction in the paper manufacturing industry in general, the paper industry is struggling. Timber and plywood exports are also being hit heavily because of the sharp slowdown in construction. As the timber industry accounts for over 15% of Finland's total export revenues, any downturn here is having a big impact on the volume of freight forwarding from Finland.

This notwithstanding, it is a time of radical change in the international freight transport infrastructure for Finland, with 2009 seeing the opening of the new Vuosaari port in Helsinki, following twenty years of planning and development. This is actually a first in the history of the European freight services industry as it is the first time a European capital port has relocated since the advent of containerisation. Vuosaari is now the new port for Helsinki and every shipping company and freight company is keeping a keen eye on developments there.

Two main cargo handling areas in the old port have been closed down and the freight services transferred to the new port. The development of the new port has been a major project, with its total cost put at over one billion euros. The move has involved massive investment on the part of the shipping companies, with Finnsteve alone contributing more than 100,000 euros. Finnsteve is also introducing greater competition in the lo-lo container sector where there are now three container stevedores. It is projected that the 150 acre site at Vuosaari will have a capacity of 2M TEU a year. This is roughly four times the capacity of the existing port and this scale of growth will clearly revolutionise freight transport in the area.

There are also now widespan gantry cranes at the port of Vuosaari. They are oversized as the access fairway to the port is only 12.5 metres deep.

Vuosaari has been designed as a fast gateway port, with low container dwell times, limited on-site empty stacking and a fast, paperless gate.

The site also includes a 35 acre logistics park that will eventually be home to over 130,000 square metres of warehousing. Nurminen Logistics has been amongst the first to take up a 11 acre concession and establish two drive-through warehouses and a covered rail terminal, which will significantly improve the efficiency of freight forwarding.

The Vuosaari suburb is also growing rapidly, with a population of 30,000 set to grow to 45,000 in the short term and there has therefore been considerable effort put into establishing a pleasant environment around the port. This has included constructing a 11 metre high, 1.5km long wall around the whole port area to hide it away as much as possible. There have also been lighting towers built so that lighting associated with the freight services is deflected away from residential areas, as well as a 1.5km tunnel to separate freight forwarding traffic from residential and other local traffic.

There has also been a 13.5km rail tunnel constructed, mainly with the objective of helping to avoid traffic congestion, Initially 10 trains a day are scheduled but this will soon double.

So, with all this focused activity and planning for expansion, Vuosaari is set to take the port of Helsinki to a new level and establish a new era of freight forwarding for shipping companies in Finland.

Vuosaari is not however Finland's largest container port. That is Kotka, which is flourishing as a result of the growth in Russian transit demand. The two ports have somewhat different profiles. Kotka handles a good balance of exports and imports, whereas the international freight traffic at Helsinki's port is strongly import-led.

Kotka has also recently completed a 150 hectare development for a new logistics site and is planning a major expansion project that would see capacity increased to 2.5M TEU a year by 2025. The port is buying adjacent land and studying the development at Vuosaari closely with a view to learning from the Vuosaari freight forwarders experience.

So with its two main ports undergoing significant redevelopment, Finland is all set for a bright future at the forefront of the freight services sector.
by Stephen Willis
References and Bibliography
Stephen Willis is Managing Director of RW Freight Services a UK based freight transport company, established in 1971 and operating worldwide freight forwarding services including specialist freight services to and from Finland
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