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A vision of twin cities - study moves ahead on Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel

The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council has launched a two-year project to examine prospects for constructing a rail link between the Finnish and Estonian capitals. The aim is to come to grips with the costs involved and the technical feasibility of a transport tunnel transversing the Gulf of Finland.

Faster by rail
Image: Petteri Juuti / Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The regional council, made up of 26 municipalities, is the main partner in the project and will carry administrative responsibility. The other partners are the City of Helsinki, the Finnish Transport Agency, the City of Tallinn, the government of Estonia's Harju County, and the Estonian Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The two-year project study phase is being budgeted at 1.3 million euros, two-thirds of which is being provided by the EU's Interreg Central Baltic programme.

In practice, this project is aimed at generating more detailed studies of the costs and feasibility of constructing a tunnel between the Finnish and Estonian capitals. There exists one preliminary study of the concept that was carried out by a Swedish consultancy, Swecon.

The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council has now hired the retired director general of the Finnish Transport Agency, Kari Ruohonen, to head the project. 

Technical challenges

So far, the idea of linking Helsinki and Tallinn by rail has gained widespread support among local government decision makers in Finland. One year ago, regional authorities in Uusimaa in the south, as well as Kanta-Häme and Päijät-Häme further inland, agreed that a decision in principle on constructing a Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel should be made no later than next year. The leaders of political groupings in Helsinki City Council have also given their backing to action to examine the prospects for the link.

A cooperation agreement on developing transport between the two cities was signed by officials of Helsinki and Tallinn this past January.

However, the construction of a tunnel is by no means certain. Research carried out this summer by the Geological Survey of Finland indicates that there could be serious technical issues that need to be sorted out.

Merja Vikman-Kanerva of the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council told Yle that one challenge for construction work would be found at the Tallinn end of a tunnel where the soil is soft and there are problems with ground water.

One alternative would be to bring the rail line up onto a bridge at the southern end of the link.

In addition to the feasibility studies, an important part of this phase of the FinEst Link project will be a lobbying effort in Brussels. The initial Swecon study estimated that to be realistic, no less than 40% of the costs for the tunnel and its rail link would have to be covered by EU funding. This estimate is also being reexamined.

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