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Graphic shows proposed plans for the Helsinki-Tallinn rail tunnel.
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TRANSPORT

Europe’s ambitious new undersea tunnel plan

By Ninian Carter

April 30, 2021 - A pioneering design to bore a train tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn is gaining ground after Finland and Estonia signed a letter of intent.

Finland and Estonia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, taking plans for a long-discussed tunnel between the two nations a step closer to reality.

The privately funded project is headed up by entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka and his FinEst Bay Area Development company – he made his fortune from the Angry Birds video game series (his nickname is Mighty Eagle).

The ambitious project would see two 103-kilometre-long high-speed rail passenger and freight tunnels dug 250 metres under the Gulf of Finland, between Helsinki in the north and Tallinn in the south, making the route far and away the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

The tunnels would be 17 metres in diameter, allowing each one to carry two train lines as well as pipes and conduits for other services if needed. In fact, the idea behind making them so wide is to future-proof them for advances in technology, such as new transport systems that can't be imagined today.

The granite bedrock spoil from the tunnels would be used to create two artificial islands 15km from each nation's coastline, providing ventilation, access and energy supplies to the tunnels below. The larger one square kilometre island to the north would be transformed into an entertainment centre with train station, shops, businesses and affordable housing.

The project is expected to cost €15-20 billion, and is controversially mainly funded by Chinese backers, leading to accusations of being far too accommodating of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Vesterbacka says the use of 16 plasma boring machines (12 to be used at any one time) will speed the project along, with completion of the tunnels anticipated as soon as December 2024.

The economic impact of such a venture is clear. Currently 10,000 Estonians commute every day by ferry to Helsinki for work – a journey that takes two hours in each direction. Conversely, Finnish tourists frequently visit Tallinn, drawn to its picturesque Old Town and low alcohol prices.

The proposed train journey would slash travel times to just 20 minutes, increasing the exchange of capital between the two cities as well as forging closer social and business ties.

Sources
PUBLISHED: 30/04/2021; STORY: Graphic News; PICTURES: Getty Images
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