The centre point of the population of Finland is located in Hauho, in the Häme region. From the point of view of logistics, this means that Hauho is the shortest possible transport distance from everyone in Finland. It would, therefore, theoretically be an optimal location for a logistics node.
However, goods are not transported to consumers individually, but are bundled together for line-haul shipments, handled at terminals and distributed in larger units to shops and local warehouses. As a result, the location of nodes is also affected by the existing network of ports, roads and railways, not to mention population centres.
The logistics node for Finnish import transport is, then, not located in Hauho, but is close to Finland’s largest concentration of consumers, which is the Helsinki metropolitan area.
Finland’s most significant logistics zone is located in the vicinity of Helsinki Airport, Vuosaari Harbour, the main railway line, Ring road III, and Finnish national roads 4 and 5. Most of Finland’s imported goods, especially consumer goods, pass through this zone. From this zone, they are either transported directly to consumers or shops, or they are repackaged and transported by road across Finland, all the way to Utsjoki up north.
Consumer goods, a large part of industrial raw materials, and parts for the assembly industry come to Finland in large units, containers and trailers. The goods transported in containers and trailers are easy and fast to transfer from ships to trains or trucks, and to transport to terminals in which the products are sorted and forwarded.
It is important for the economy of transport that these same large units, as well as ships and trains, travel full in both directions. This is one of the reasons that exports also increasingly travel in large units.
This has led to a situation in which Finland’s most important import ports (in terms of the value of transported goods) are also the most important export ports. Because imported goods arrive near the largest concentration of consumers and the logistics zone of the Helsinki metropolitan area, the Port of Helsinki is the largest port in Finland in terms of the value of goods. Other ports in the Uusimaa region, such as Hanko, Inkoo and Sköldvik, complement this zone of export and import ports.
The special strength of the Port of Helsinki is the frequent maritime transport of large units, namely, containers, trucks and trailers, to Europe. It is precisely in these large units that the highly processed consumer goods and industrial raw materials are transported.
In particular, there is frequent traffic to Central Europe, either through Tallinn and the Baltic countries or, alternatively, directly to Germany. This traffic constitutes an efficient and reliable transport connection for Finnish trade and industry.
A rule of thumb often quoted is that as the GDP grows, the transport of goods doubles or triples. This rule of thumb has not been true of Finland for many years. Finland’s GDP has grown significantly in the 21st century, but as Figure 1 shows, Finland’s export and import of goods has practically remained the same.
Figure 1. Finland’s foreign trade and the share of large units of total transport (source: Statistics Finland)
The reason for this is the structural change in Finnish industry, whereby an increasing share of Finland’s foreign trade is either services or highly processed goods, which bring more profit but weigh less. Figure 1 also shows that the share of large units, that is, containers, trucks and trailers, has increased to about a third of total transport.
A significant share of Finland’s export and import transport, then, passes through the ports of Uusimaa. We can picture the Uusimaa region as being Finland’s lungs, breathing in imports and breathing out exports. Uusimaa has good connections across Finland by road, railway and air routes.
In the latest Uusimaa regional plan, the region’s significant logistical position has been taken into account in the development strategy for movement and logistics. The plan safeguards ports, logistics terminals, and land transport connections.
In the future, we may require a rail connection to Europe, that is, a tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn. However, current calculations show that passenger traffic, particularly the number of commuter and business trips, is key for the profitability of the tunnel, with freight traffic only ranking second in significance.
The tunnel also requires years of work in zoning, geological measurements, planning, and business models before construction can begin.
In the upcoming decades, the change in the structure of Finland’s foreign trade means that the volumes of goods transport, in terms of tons, will not increase. Meanwhile, carbon neutrality targets are putting great pressure on the development of logistics: the transport of goods must be more efficient and produce fewer emissions.
(Previously published in Finnish in the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council Tulevaisuuskirja (“Futures Book”).)