If it’s a clear day and you climb to the top of St. Olaf’s church in Tallinn, it is possible to gaze across the Gulf of Finland and glimpse Helsinki. However to reach the Finnish capital, you either have to take a two-hour boat trip, or take a 500 mile / 800 kilometre road trip though Russia. Plans instead for a third route, an undersea rail tunnel around 60km long have been discussed for a number of years but have now taken a step forward with the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council launching a two-year project to examine prospects for constructing a rail link between the Finnish and Estonian capitals. The aim is to come fully analyse the costs involved and the technical feasibility of this megaproject.
Tens of thousands of Estonians work in the Helsinki region, many of whom commute across the Gulf of Finland, and Tallinn is popular with the tourists travelling the other way. "Helsinki and Tallinn together form an economic area of approximately 1.5 million people. To fully utilize the area's potential, transport between the cities should be faster and flow easier than at present," the city of Helsinki said in a statement earlier in the year.
A tunnel would shorten the travel time between the capitals to about 30 minutes, and would link up with Rail Baltica, a railway connection between Tallinn and Warsaw in Poland projected to be completed in 2025. It is predicted that the tunnel's trains would transport 11 million + people a year.
This plan, monikered FinEst moved one step closer to reality in January of this year when the Finnish and Estonian ministers signed a memorandum of understanding binding the two partner states to further investigate the viability and economic impact of the tunnel's delivery.
(Source: FinEst Link: http://finestlink.fi/en/)
A 2015 preliminary study by the Swecon consultancy, Swecon, estimated total costs at €9-13 billion. Sweco based its study on a shareholding model. According to their calculations, the initial investment in the construction of the tunnel would be paid back to the investors in 40 years in the form of passenger fares and freight charges.
This new two-year project study phase is being budgeted at €1.3 million euros, two-thirds of which is being provided by the EU's Interreg Central Baltic programme. The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council has now hired the retired director general of the Finnish Transport Agency, Kari Ruohonen, to head this new project as reported by Yle.
The cost of this project is significant, and there are other challenges. As reported by Yle, research from the Geological Survey of Finland indicated that there could be serious technical issues that need to be overcome, including the soft soil in Estonia and problems with ground water.
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