Although plans for the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel were overshadowed by more pressing issues during the Ukraine energy crisis, the long-term plan and strategic importance of the tunnel have not changed, Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut said.
Despite the difficulties, the tunnel between the two capitals is seen as a promising future project on both the Estonian and Finnish sides, Sikkut said.
"The current situation in both Estonia and Finland is that there is, indeed, a strategic need to connect the two cities. When Rail Baltic is completed and the freight routes are reconfigured — at the moment we have much less east-west and more north-south — this tunnel would be an extension of Rail Baltic and would allow a very long north-south freight route," the minister explained.
"In times of war and energy crisis, it is understandable that the priority has been defense and energy infrastructure investment. This has not changed the long-term strategic plan; however, no short-term cost decisions have been made yet," Sikkut said.
Sikkut met with Finnish businessman Peter Vesterbacka on Monday, who promised to be able to complete the tunnel in a few years time if the necessary permits were obtained.
"I inquired about the total estimated cost of developing such a project," Sikkut said, adding that the businessman confirmed that the tunnel "could be built quickly once the planning and logistics are worked out: the end of the 2020s, or something close to it."
Vesterbacka has said in the past that he would like to finance the tunnel's construction with the help of Chinese investors, who would have no say in the project.
The Estonian government has a major strategic interest in maintaining control over the tunnel project, as well as the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland.
Estonia and Finland signed a memorandum of common objectives in April, which included the promotion of the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel. The agreement emphasized the leading role of the governments in the construction of the tunnel, including, if necessary, the participation of private capital.
Former Minister of the Economy Taavi Aas said that the states would continue to supervise the Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel project. "It can only be a public project, as there are a lot of risks involved in a private development projects. This does not exclude the participation of the private sector in some capacity, but the states are responsible for management," he said.
Aas also acknowledged, however, that it is challenging for Estonia and Finland to complete the project with their own funds, which is why they aim to secure more EU co-financing and are seriously considering involving the private sector.
The decision of the tunnel route requires a special national plan. According to the memorandum of understanding between Finland and Estonia, the infrastructure poses a serious security risk.
In February of 2018, FinEst Link reported the findings of a feasibility study on the Tallinn-Helsinki rail tunnel. The research estimates that freight and passenger transit between the two cities will double or even quadruple during the next 30 years. A undersea rail tunnel would result in substantial cost and time savings for freight transportation.
The underground section of the Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel would be 103 kilometers long, making it the world's longest undersea railway tunnel, according to the study at the time.
The study estimates, approximately 12 million passengers will travel between the two countries by train, while 11 million will continue to travel by boat, bringing the total number of passengers to 23 million by 2050.
The cost-benefit analysis of the FinEst Link project included a rail operation model, in which trains travel at 200 km/h on a 20-minute schedule during peak hours. The travel would take 30 minutes, and a single ticket would cost €18.
A passenger train, a lorry train and freight trains would run about 30 times a day at speeds of 120 to 160 km/h.
Editor: Kristina Kersa