Thursday, February 4, 2016

Undersea Tunnel Sought to Connect Helsinki and Tallinn

Helsinki and Tallinn, the capitals of the Baltic Sea countries of Finland and Estonia respectively, have agreed in principle to build an undersea rail tunnel connecting the two cities. The 80-kilometer rail link will be the first major rail connection between Finland and the outside world, but it is equally important for Estonia, making it practical for Tallinn residents to work in Helsinki. Already, thousands of people make the daily commute from Tallinn to Helsinki despite a 2-hour ferry ride. The reverse trip is also a popular day trip for Helsinki residents, who may see sights or visit restaurants in Tallinn, then drink beer to pass the time on the ferry ride home. The tunnel, which is hoped to be complete in 2030 at an estimated cost of €13 billion, will effectively bring the two cities closer together.

The proposed tunnel lends more weight to another rail project to connect Tallinn to Poland by way of the two countries in between, Latvia and Lithuania. This would make Finland more readily accessible from the other countries of the European Union, largely taking away the current commercial perspective that Finland is effectively an island that must be approached by sea or air. In the live music business, for example, this could result in more tours visiting Finland and more Finns traveling to music festivals across Europe.

It would be a bit of an exaggeration to say that all this is on the drawing board, however. Only preliminary studies have been done and it will take at least two years of detailed engineering studies before funding can be sought for construction. Once funded, the construction itself would take at least several years, as you would expect for a project of this scale.

I am always encouraged to see plans for high-speed rail being placed underground, as in the case of the Talinn-Helsinki tunnel. I believe the future high-speed rail network must be mostly underground for safety and efficiency reasons. A tunnel is protected from weather events, for example, and it provides the shortest route between two points.