Kristjan Kaunissaare, main coordinator of the Rail Baltic project, said that the failure to initiate a spatial plan for a potential undersea tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki will affect the efficiency of transit on the Rail Baltic route.
Kaunissaare said on Vikerraadio's morning program "Vikerhommik" that it must be taken into consideration that two separate projects for a tunnel have been in discussions - one planned by Peter Vesterbacka and another planned by the Estonian and Finnish governments.
The Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has previously said that there is no ongoing project for a tunnel in the works. Kaunissaare commented, saying that even though a study conducted in 2018 concluded without a decision, Estonia has not buried the idea.
He added that a tunnel would have been great for Rail Baltic, but a tunnel has never been considered in the plans for the international railroad project, going back to designs made in the early 2000s. Since there has no decision been made on a tunnel, designing it into the complete Rail Baltic project would have been utopian. The only document containing a potential tunnel is the operating plan for the railroad, which sees a tunnel being constructed by 2055. Cost-benefit analyses on transit and tourism do not consider a tunnel at all.
Kaunissaare added he thinks a tunnel is utopian because Vesterbacka has said it should be developed before Rail Baltic itself. Kaunissaare believes a more realistic timeline for the tunnel would be to open in 2050.
Speaking on the financing for Vesterbacka's tunnel, linked to Chinese investors, Kaunissaare said that large-scale infrastructure projects are traditonally financed by states instead of private investors, due to the results being profitable on a socio-economic scale, instead of financially.
Financing for Rail Baltic comes from the EU, with a total of around €1.2 billion already being secured. A common funding goal was agreed to by the Baltic states in 2017. Kaunissaare said the latest developments regarding Rail Baltic financing are positive and he thinks trains will begin operating on the route in 2026.
Kaunissaare considers it a convincing argument that a cost-benefit analysis on the potential Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel shows that it would bring an additional four tons of goods to Rail Baltic in addition to the eight tons initially estimated.
He confirmed that even without a tunnel, transit would not stop. More ports would have to be used as ships would be used to take goods across the Gulf of Finland. An investment into Muuga Harbour, the largest cargo port in Estonia, will grant the port capabilities to receive cargo from Rail Baltic trains.
Rail Baltic is an ongoing railway infrastructure project to link Finland (via ferry), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with the purpose being to provide passenger and freight service between participating countries and improve rail connections between Central and Northern Europe.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste