Helsinki-Tallinn’s €20bn rail tunnel could be open by 2040

Photo: Sweco.
Photo: Sweco.

Authorities in Finland and Estonia are hoping plans can progress to build a mega 103km-long undersea railway tunnel – the longest in the world by current standards.

The two countries are separated by the Gulf of Finland and if proposals go ahead, developer FinEst Link says it will create a metropolitan twin-city region of three million inhabitants.

A number of consultancies have helped to produce the project’s feasibility study, which has just been published, but there’s one big problem: finance.

Estimates put the amount of investment needed between €13-20 billion. The wide spread in estimations can be explained because of the lack of information on technical specification at this stage but tunnel construction, two artificial islands, planning costs, stations, terminals and depots are all covered.

A public-private partnership model has been recommended to cover the majority of the costs and an EU grant for 40 per cent.

Even then, the study still identifies finance as the project’s biggest weakness, stating the financial prospect of the tunnel would be “challenging because of the small size of the Finnish and Estonian economies.”

But the study notes that further technical and economic feasibility reports are needed, to better understand the true cost and wider economic impact.

FinEst Link project director Kari Ruohonen believes that innovative financial solutions could increase the project’s feasibility and emphasised the improved accessibility as one of the tunnel’s overriding benefits.

He added: “From the viewpoint of deeper twin-city integration and regional development there could be major benefits from the tunnel.

“Geographically, Finland resembles an island and the tunnel would offer a connection to the Central European rail network.”

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Travelling by boat between the two capital cities can take two hours by boat. FinEst plans to cut that travel time to 30 minutes. Photo: FinEst Link.
Travelling by boat between the two capital cities can take two hours by boat. FinEst plans to cut that travel time to 30 minutes. Photo: FinEst Link.

Travel by boat can take up to two hours across the Gulf of Finland but a railway tunnel could slash that travel time to 30 minutes, allowing daily commuting between the two capital cities.

Trains would run at 20-minute intervals at speeds of up to 200km/h with tickets costing around €18.

As well as passenger traffic, freight would also be transported on the railway, which would connect to Rail Baltica in Tallinn, and there could be a car shuttle service.

After becoming operational, the ticket revenues from the trains and tunnel fees would cover the annual operational and maintenance costs of the tunnel.

However, the study said that the train operation would require subsidies of €280 million per year for 40 years from Finland and Estonia.

The railway tunnel would be made up of two single-track tunnels and a service tunnel with cross-passages.

The tracks would have the European gauge of 1435mm but when joining the planned Airport line in Helsinki, a part of the tunnel tube would have both tracks: the European standard and the Finnish one (1524 mm).

Should plans get the green light – and after an initial planning phase – construction of the tunnel could begin in 2025 and the tunnel ready for operation in 2040.

By 2050, FinEst Link calculates that approximately 12.5 million passengers would take the train per year and 10.5 million the ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki.

Currently around nine million people make that journey each year.

The FinEst Link feasibility study was put together by: Amberg Engineering, Sweco Finland, WSP, Ramboll Finland, Sito, Pöyry, Strafica, Kaupunkitutkimus TA, Inspira, Rebel Group and Kairo Design Agency. The full report can be read by clicking here. 

Read more: Consortia picked for Lyon-Turin rail link tunnelling work




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