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Ports in Northern Europe


In Denmark, shipping has long played an important role in linking the different parts of the island. However, as a result of the development of the road and rail networks and the construction of bridges between the various islands and the mainland, land transport is now of considerable importance.

Denmark Emoji Flag

Railways. Denmark was the first country in the Nordic region to receive rail when the Copenhagen – Roskilde line was completed in 1847. The length of the rail network is now less than half of what it was in 1945. In 2010, it amounted to 2 700 km. The main axes of the rail network are the east-west stretch from Copenhagen across the islands to Esbjerg, the north-south from Frederikshavn through eastern Jutland to the Danish-German border and the north-south stretch from Helsingør via Copenhagen, Falster and Lolland to the continent. On this line, Zealand connects Falster through the 3.2 km long Storstrømsbron and Lolland with Germany via ferry connection. Since 2000, the route also links to Sweden’s rail network via the Öresund connection.

Roads. Denmark has a well-developed road network with a total length of 73 200 km (2010). The network of main roads is connected by a large number of bridges and ferry connections. Examples of the former are the Farø Bridge (3.3 km), which links Zealand with Falster, and the motorway bridge over the Little Belt (1.7 km), which joins Funen with Jutland. The most significant fixed link, the Great Belt connection, which is an 18 km long combined bridge and tunnel connection for road and rail traffic between Zealand and Funen, was inaugurated in June 1998. Through this transport route, accessibility between mainly Zealand on one side and Funen and Jutland, on the other hand, improved in a highly tangible way. The Danish road network has since 2000 been linked with the Swedish via the Öresund connection.

Shipping. Domestic shipping (passenger, rail and car ferries) is an important part of transport in Denmark. In recent years, port operations have become increasingly concentrated, and more than 80% of all cargo handling now takes place in the twelve largest ports, the most important of which are in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Fredericia, Ålborg and Esbjerg. Oil terminals, with nearby oil refineries, are located in Fredericia, Kalundborg and Skælskør, the latter two on the west coast of Zealand.

Air transport. Due to the short distances in the country, domestic flights are relatively small. The domestic network includes 13 airports, most of them in Jutland. However, the traffic is almost entirely concentrated at Copenhagen Airport Kastrup. Denmark has been part of SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) together with Norway and Sweden since 1950, and since then Kastrup has served as a hub in the European and intercontinental air services of the Nordic countries.


Most (about 86 per cent) of freight traffic in the country goes by road. The public road network has a length of 78,000 km.

Finland Emoji Flag

The railways are run by the state railway company VR (Valtion Rautatiet) and have a track length of 5 900 km, of which 3 300 km are electrified. They are wide-gauge (gauge 1,524 mm) since the Russian era, which has led to the construction of terminals for changing ferry wheels when expanding train ferry traffic. The railway has struggled with major losses, which has led to significant changes in traffic, and a large number of stations have been closed down. At the same time, investments are being made in improvements to the rail network and faster train connections on the most frequented lines. Rail traffic is exposed to competition in the EU, but so far only a private company has started freight traffic in eastern Finland.

Shipping can be divided into inland traffic as well as coastal and international traffic. The largest traffic route in lake traffic is the transport route to and from the Russian Federation via the Saima channel. Some lumber is still rafted on the lake routes.

Maritime transport accounts for approximately 83 percent of international freight traffic. The largest coastal ports in freight traffic are the oil port of Sköldvik, Helsinki, Kotka / Fredrikshamn, Karleby, Naantali, Rauma, Brahestad and Pori. The largest passenger ports are Helsinki, Turku and Naantali. Passenger ferries operate in Sweden and Estonia. To other countries in the Baltic Sea area there is passenger traffic on combined cargo vessels.

There are 25 airports in Finland, of which the most frequented in 2014 were the airline Finnair’s main hub Helsinki – Vantaa, Oulu, Turku, Tampere, Vaasa, Kuopio, Rovaniemi and Mariehamn. Helsinki-Vantaa, which accounted for 70 percent of the traffic, has become a major node for passenger stops between Asia and Europe through Finnair’s direct flights to Japan, China and South Korea.


In 2014, passenger transport transport work was just over eight times greater than 1950 calculated in passenger kilometers (number of trips multiplied by travel length), and the distribution of modes of transport has radically changed during that period.

Sweden Emoji Flag

Freight traffic has also changed in scope and composition, but not as drastically as passenger traffic.

The current transport policy focuses on accessibility and emphasizes safety, environmental and health considerations. In recent years, serious traffic accidents have further decreased and accessibility for disabled travelers has increased. But the goal of a vehicle fleet independent of fossil fuels in 2030 cannot be achieved with the pace of change that is in the mid-2010’s.

Road network and motoring

In 1900, the road network covered only 54,800 km. In the childhood of motorism in the 1920’s and 30’s, extensive road construction began, but since 1990 the length of the state road network has not changed. Several, longer stretches with branches have become highways and the capacity of the road network has greatly increased through the widening and straightening of previous stretches. In 2015, Sweden had only 2,050 km of motorways and 410 km of motorway routes, which is quite a bit from an international perspective.

Longer motorways are still missing in Norrland. The densest road network can be found in Götaland and the eastern part of Svealand (see road). Within Sweden there are shorter or longer sections of eleven European roads. The longest ones are E45 and E4 and the busiest are E4 and E20 (see European road).

Car travel has increased substantially during periods of strong economic growth, while the increase was significantly halted during the energy crisis in the 1970’s and during the economic crisis years in the early 1990’s. In the 2000’s, the expansion of motoring has been dampened by lower economic growth and increased competition from rail-based traffic.

Car ownership has changed in a similar way. It is highest in sparsely populated counties and lowest in metropolitan regions.

The development of public transport

The earliest form of public transport was steamboats that were already used in line traffic several hundred years ago. After the mid-1800’s, steam-powered trains and horse-drawn trams came and motorized buses in the late 1800’s. During the first years of the 20th century, the trams were electrified and at the same time the electrification of the railways began. The rail network had its largest distribution in the 1930’s. Around 1950, about half of the passenger transport consisted of public transport, mainly train travel.

Subsequently, rail traffic was greatly reduced and since the beginning of the 1970’s, public transport by land (train, bus, tram, subway) has together accounted for about one fifth of all passenger transport work. During the 2000’s, train traffic has taken over portions of motorism on a regional and local scale and from aviation in the case of longer journeys.


In 1910, tram systems existed in thirteen locations, but by the middle of the 20th century most were shut down. Trams are now available in Gothenburg, Norrköping and the Stockholm area. A new line is the Tvärbanan (2015), an 18 km long expressway around west central Stockholm. Proposals for new, modern tramways exist in a number of major cities; and most concrete are the plans in Lund.


Stockholm is the only Swedish city by metro. In 1950, the first part of the three lines that now intersect the northern and southern parts of Greater Stockholm’s central parts was opened (see metro).


The railway network reached its largest distribution, 16 900 km, in the late 1930’s. Thereafter, the total track length gradually decreased until 1994 and then increased slightly. The decline was greatest during the 1960’s. Three quarters of the network is electrified and 18 percent double or multi-track. Narrow-gauge tracks make up only half a percent of the total track length.

Travel opportunities have increased during the 2000’s. The train speed has increased, but it has also meant that most of the smaller stations have been closed down. In metropolitan regions, commuter trains account for a large proportion of local and regional rail services.

Previously, few investments were made in the rail network, but that has changed in the 2000’s. As travel gradually increases, the problems with lack of track capacity grow and in addition poor maintenance in previous years must be compensated. (see railway).


From the 1970’s until the turn of the century, bus connections became increasingly important for connecting urban areas in sparsely populated regions and for connecting newly built, scattered residential areas to the central parts of major cities. Bus is by far the most common means of transport on a local scale (for work trips, school trips and the like), except in Stockholm where the metro is of greatest importance. On a regular day, about 10 percent of Sweden’s population travel by bus. Many companies operate long-distance bus services (express buses), and lines and departures have increased significantly since the mid-00’s.

Public transport by sea

On a local scale, there is passenger traffic by boat in port and archipelago areas in and outside Stockholm and Gothenburg. International ferry connections have Sweden with about ten neighboring countries. The number of arriving and departing ferry passengers (foreign and Gotland traffic) decreased by a quarter around 2000 after the Öresund Bridge was opened and has since been around 30 million annually. Most ferry passengers passed the ports in Stockholm and Helsingborg. In addition, Swedish ports are visited annually by about 400 cruise ships.


Domestic flights began to expand seriously in the 1950’s; In 1958, 14 locations were linked to the domestic flight network. SAS operated the trunk lines from Bromma (Stockholm) to Gothenburg, Malmö, Luleå and Kiruna. Stockholm’s new Arlanda airport was opened for traffic in 1960 and for international traffic in 1962. By 1983, all domestic traffic in the Stockholm area had also been moved to Arlanda. This facilitated the possibility of crossing between different routes, which stimulated domestic air travel. Bromma Stockholm Airport was then mainly an airport for business aviation. An important feature of regional policy in the 1970’s was to reduce the long travel times between the country’s central and peripheral areas and therefore many regional airports were built. In 1990, the flight network comprised 42 locations. An increasing number of these also received international scheduled and international charter services abroad. In 1992 the aviation market was liberalized and more and more airlines gradually established themselves at the city-wide airport Bromma Stockholm Airport.

About fifty airports are approved as instrument airports. In addition, there are many smaller airfields used by aviation clubs or individuals. Ten of the major airports are state, while most of the other certified are municipal. The country’s by far the busiest airport is Arlanda. For southern Sweden, Copenhagen Airport is important. It is the largest airport in the Nordic region and is easily accessible thanks to the road and train connections across the Öresund Bridge.

Domestic air travel increased mainly during the 1980’s and during the latter part of the 1990’s, while periods of economic stagnation and decline were clearly reflected in the number of travelers. Since the X2000 express trains were put into service in 1990, competition between modes of travel for long-distance domestic travelers increased. Airline tickets also became more expensive as a result of higher fuel costs. These are two explanations that since then the number of domestic air travelers has not increased but fluctuated.

Aviation’s share of all domestic passenger traffic is very small, but aviation is of great importance for travel between locations in Norrland and metropolitan areas in the southern half of Sweden.

Foreign liner flights have increased substantially almost every year, while charter travel has declined over the past decade. The main reason for this is that more and more travelers want to decide for themselves the travel arrangements and therefore use regular flights. Many low-cost airlines compete with short, cheap connections to mainly European metropolitan cities, which is an important explanation for the fact that foreign air travel continued to increase sharply in the 2010’s.

Freight transport by land and at sea

Over the past 50 years, freight has not increased as much as passenger transport. The redistribution between different types of traffic has also not been so striking.

Each type of transport has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to transporting goods of different kinds, and often several different types of transport are included in a product’s transport chain. Measured in terms of transport volume, shipping is the leading mode of transport, especially important as large quantities of cheap, bulky raw materials and semi-finished products (ores, iron and steel products, forest raw materials, forest products, cement, crude oil and oil products) must be transported over large distances.

Truck traffic’s expansion reflects the modern business world where more and more finished goods are to be quickly shipped from producers in larger cities to a scattered customer base, beyond the reach of ports and railway stations. Between 1960 and 2014, trucking volumes increased sharply.

The railways have been able to compete with lower costs and with speed in the transport chains where expensive transhipments are not required. However, the increase in rail passenger transport in the last decade is not matched by increased freight transport on the railways. These fell by a fifth in 2008-14 and increased only in terms of freight to and from abroad.

Freight freight by air occurs to a very small extent. Air freight on a larger scale can only be handled at Arlanda, Landvetter and Malmö Airport (Sturup).

Sweden has about 120 commercial ports and industrial ports. The vast majority of them can handle both bulk cargo vessels (bulk weights) and containers as well as tankers, ferries and rorofish vessels. The largest port in the Nordic region is located in Gothenburg. It has the capacity to take in the largest ocean-going container vessels and handle their cargoes, and is therefore the most important node for long-term foreign trade. From there, for example, smaller container ships go to smaller ports near the final destination of the goods.

In recent years, the development of freight transport has meant that there have been fewer but larger trucks, rail cars and ships.


As a result of physical conditions, the Norwegian land transport systems are not as tightly developed as the Swedish ones. The public highway network covers a total of 93 900 km.

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The country’s first railway was opened in 1854, and for almost 100 years a continuous expansion of the railway network, which reached its greatest length in 1948 (close to 4,500 km), was ongoing. Since the 1950’s, several lines have been closed, and in 2019 the railway covered 4,200 km, of which 2,456 km (61 per cent) were electrified and 131 km double track. With the exception of 16 km, the railways are owned by the Norwegian state. The Norwegian railway network is linked to the Swedish by the Gothenburg-Oslo, Stockholm-Oslo, Östersund-Trondheim and Boden-Narvik lines. Most of the traffic on the latter route consists of iron ore from the Swedish iron ore fields in Lapland, and the line lacks connection to the other Norwegian railway network.

Domestic shipping has traditionally been of great importance for passenger and freight transport. However, as a result of the expansion of new and better country roads, increased car ownership and increased aviation opportunities, the number of passengers has fallen sharply. Freight transport at sea, on the other hand, is of very large scope and accounts for 2/3 of the country’s total freight transport work. Two thirds of maritime transport consists of oil and natural gas from the continental shelf to the Norwegian mainland. More than half of these transports take place with oil vessels, the rest in oil and gas pipelines.

As one of most advanced countries in Europe ranked by COUNTRYAAH, Norway also has regular international ferry services with Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The merchant navy has for a long time meant a lot to the Norwegian economy, and the country is considered to be the world’s largest shipping nations. The merchant fleet reached its largest extent to date in 1976 (just over 27 million gross tonnes), but more than halved during the subsequent ten-year period. This was due to, among other things, on the international decline in freight, caused by reduced oil transport and a surplus of vessel tonnage in the world, and on Norwegian legislation, which contributed to many Norwegian shipping companies selling their vessels or starting to sail under flags of convenience. However, since Norway established the Norwegian International Ship Register (NIS) in 1987, it became profitable to operate shipping again in the country.

Domestic air transport plays a major role in passenger transport in the country (7% of total passenger transport work), especially in the sparsely populated and inaccessible areas of the north. Through Det Norske Aviation (DNL) Norway is part owner of SAS together with Sweden and Denmark.

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