Estonia and Finland seek to push on with undersea link

By bne IntelliNews January 5, 2016

The Estonian and Finnish transport ministers signed a memorandum on cooperation in transport, hoping to accelerate work on a slow moving project to build an undersea tunnel to link Tallinn with Finnish peer Helsinki, the Finnish communications and transport ministry announced on January 5.

The memorandum underlines the fact that traffic between the two capitals continues to increase, and efforts should be made to make travel “easy and smooth,” Communications and Transport Minister Anne Berner said in a statement. Cooperation should start with easier steps, including improving existing maritime links and the introduction of a single transport ticket valid in both cities, the ministry said.

The existing ferry route linking Helsinki and Tallinn takes as long as two hours. It was travelled by some 8mn people in 2014, including thousands of Estonians working in Finland. An undersea rail tunnel could cut the time to just 30 minutes, and in turn help create an integrated trans-boundary urban region - Talsinki - supporters of the project claim.

However, the tunnel project is taking a little longer. The mayors of Helsinki and Tallinn signed a letter of intent to build the link in 2008, but a feasibility study didn't appear until last February. Finland and Estonia are now seeking EU funding for the project, which is planned to become part of the Rail Baltica international project connecting Finland to Poland via the Baltic states.

Work on Rail Baltica is ongoing in Lithuania and Poland. However, it has proved slow going, as the Baltic states and their neighbours are notorious for bickering over joint projects. Estonia and Finland have spent years trying to agree on a joint LNG facility to lessen reliance on Russian gas, but efforts collapsed yet again earlier this year.

The feasibility study estimates the cost of the tunnel at €9bn-13bn. The start date of construction remains highly uncertain. Minister Berner said she hoped the construction would start in a decade, AFP reported. Estonian Economy Minister Kristen Michal said he hopes the tunnel will be operational by the time he retires.

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