Interest Re-Emerges in Proposed Tallinn-Helsinki Tunnel ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Source: Photo: AFP/Scanpix

Even if the Tallinn-Helsinki underwater tunnel were to be built, experts say it wouldn't happen until 2050-2070. Nevertheless, southern Finland's Uusimaa County has drafted development plans which take the dream project into consideration.

The subject of the potential tunnel, which would cost billions of euros to build, has re-emerged along with progress in the Rail Baltic project, Eesti Päevaleht reported.

Last October at a transport forum in Tallinn, Pekka Sauri, deputy mayor of Helsinki, said that if the Rail Baltic project were to materialize, the tunnel would be the next logical step. Also last year, Estonian researchers carried out a Finnish-commissioned study, costing tens of thousands of euros, on the geological conditions of potential routes for the tunnel on the Estonian side.

The latest nod toward the potential project has come in the form of Uusimaa County's development plans, due to be confirmed at the end of this year. The local government has also submitted a funding request to the EU, in the framework of the Baltic Sea strategy, for the so-called TallsinkiFix project, aiming to carry out a detailed overview of possibilities.

"In the long-term perspective, the tunnel is a very important opportunity that needs to be taken into consideration, which is why we added it to our plans. But we haven't yet researched this issue enough to understand all of its benefits and problems," the head of Uusimaa County, Ossi Savolainen, told Eesti Päevaleht. He added that, in the near future, it would be more reasonable to develop helicopter and ferry connections, with the possibility of train ferries.

Kalle Suuroja, an Estonian geological expert who has been involved in research for the tunnel, said there are no major technical barriers. "From an engineering point of view it would be easy to build. Compared with the Channel Tunnel the construction would be a cinch; although that tunnel is shorter, it is wholly in soft ground," Suur­oja said, pointing to Finland's experience in building a 120-kilometer drinking water tunnel for Helsinki.

"Our tunnel would be a much more serious construction, but 90 percent of it would travel through the same rock as Finland's water tunnel," Suuroja said.

But the cities of Tallinn and Helsinki, which fancy the idea of developing a twin cities region, a topic discussed again at the two mayors' most recent meeting in February, have shown more interest for the tunnel than the national governments of Estonia and Finland, according to Eesti Päevaleht.

"The Finnish government lacks any kind of interest on this issue," said Rasmus Ruuda, an adviser for the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs.

"If we take into account that the tunnel connecting Estonia and Finland would be longer and the number of potential passengers and goods we have compared with Britain and France, perhaps that would put things in perspective," Ruuda said.

Furthermore, in light of good cargo ship and ferry connections in the Gulf of Finland, critics say there is no direct need for the tunnel.

"European Commissioner of Transport Siim Kallas has also said that the tunnel is not realistic and that it would be astronomically expensive," Ruuda said.

The idea for the tunnel was originally introduced to Estonia by Helsinki officials in 1994. Several potential sites for the southern entrance of such a tunnel have been discussed, chiefly Rohuneeme on the Viimsi peninsula north of Tallinn.

In 2007, the mayors of Tallinn and Helsinki requested 800,000 euros in EU support for studying the feasibility of a potential underground railway between the two cities. The request was turned down in 2009.

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