08:41 GMT06 March 2021
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    The European Union has allocated over one million euros for conducting a feasibility study of a controversial project to build the world's longest railway tunnel (80 km) between the capitals of Estonia and Finland, which, if completed, would set the EU back billions of euros with no immediate compensation.

    The study, which is set to be completed by 2018 with a budget of 1.3 million euros, will determine whether or not there is any need to build an undersea tunnel that would span the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Possible technical solutions, alternatives and the project's potential environmental impact are to be examined. The EU Central Baltic Program will provide 75 percent of the outlay, whereas Finland and Estonia will jointly finance the rest.

    For years, Helsinki and Tallinn have cherished the over-adventurous project, which would eliminate the need for the present-day ferries — as long as the EU would be willing to provide most of the estimated 13 billion euros in funding. Today, about eight million ferry journeys are made every year. The Helsinki-Tallinn ferries are a widespread tourist attraction, a popular 'booze cruise' for Finns and part of a weekly commute for thousands of Estonians working in the Finnish metropolitan area. Remarkably, in 2009, the EU refused to finance a similar feasibility study, while later allocating 100,000 euros in 2015.

    ​According to earlier estimates by Finnish national broadcaster Yle, the grandiose scheme includes a 80-kilometer-long tunnel, which would stretch from Finland's Pasila railway station in Helsinki to Ülemiste district on the outskirts of Tallinn. The proposed tunnel would have a daily capacity of 25,000 passengers and offer 36-euro trips lasting about half an hour.

    Earlier estimates presented by Estonian Transport and Economy Minister Kristen Michal indicate that the project supposedly has great prospects for boosting economic cooperation between the two countries, enhancing Estonia's and Finland's GDP growth by 0.5 and 3 percent respectively. The project's supporters are looking forward to the same integrating effect that the Danish-Swedish Øresund Bridge, built over Øresund Sound, had for the metropolitan areas of Copenhagen and Malmö.

    However, numerous reservations concerning both the viability of the project and technical details have been expressed. As pointed out by Finnish engineer Eero Pustinen in his article in Helsingin Sanomat, additional time would be required for acceleration and braking would inevitably delay the travel time to an hour. At the same time, extra time spent on getting to Tallinn's city center would extend the train ride to about the same time as a ferry trip.

    Pustinen noted that there has long been an established and well-working system of passenger and freight traffic between the two cities and denounced the idea of splurging out billions of public money on a dubious tunnel. In 2007, plans to build an international expressway between Tallinn and Prague ran into problems when environmentalists successfully lobbied the European Commission to halt construction due to the proposed highway's ecological impact on Poland's wilderness.

    Despite Finland, Estonia and the other Baltic states all using the "Russian" 1,524 mm track gauge, the Helsinki to Tallinn tunnel would use the European gauge and be linked with another imposing railway project, Rail Baltica, which is aimed at enhancing connections between Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Scandinavia via Warsaw, Kaunas and Riga. Apparently, the strictly political goal of bypassing Russia by all means outweighs the possible economic gains.

    The vision of a road connection from Helsinki to Tallinn is almost 150 years old. In Estonia's Harju county archives, drawings of a bridge to Helsinki, upheld with balloons, dating back to 1871, may be found.


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