The Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel project is gathering steam. The project, which kicked off before the turn of the millennium, has recently been given a cash injection as well as new impetus. A public sector study was conducted to analyse the project’s operational prerequisites, and AINS Group has joined forces with Pöyry and Fira to form a consortium, headed by Peter Vesterbacka, with a view to taking the project towards the planning and realisation stages with the help of private funding. We hope that the decision-makers will act quickly with regard to planning and permission matters, as delays at this stage may cost us the interest of private backers.

The goal for this project is to build a tunnel that will take passengers directly from the Finnish capital region to Tallinn, Estonia, by train. In the 1990s and perhaps even before that, it was mainly various friendship societies and other international associations that entertained thoughts of the tunnel and worked to get the project off the ground. On several occasions, we have offered assistance to the driving forces behind these efforts to promote the venture. We would like to thank these people for their tremendous contribution.

In the past few years, the tunnel project has taken several concrete steps forward. The first time that the project received public funding was in 2015–2016, when a pre-feasibility study on a transport connection between Helsinki and Tallinn was conducted. Aimed at providing a more profound understanding of the project requirements, the second stage of the study was performed in 2016–2018 as part of the FinEst Link project, and was completed in February 2018. With a budget of 1.3 million euros, the feasibility study was funded jointly by the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council, the Cities of Helsinki and Tallinn, the Finnish Transport Agency, Harju County, and the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Our proposal differs from the public sector plan in several respects:

  1. We propose building the railway link to the airport via Keilaniemi in Espoo. Under the public sector plan, the route runs via Helsinki.
  2. Our intention is to realise the project with private funding without dipping into public coffers. At the moment, it seems that a large proportion of the funding would come from Chinese investors.
  3. Our goal is to realise the project as rapidly as possible, which is a requirement for attracting private funding.

Investors will only be convinced by a flying start to the project

Peter Vesterbacka became interested in the tunnel project in summer 2016. Since then, we have been part of Peter’s group and have been actively involved in supporting and promoting the plan. Over the course of the project, we have participated in meetings with potential Chinese partners, Finnish ministers and decision-makers from Tallinn, and we also visited the Finnish Parliament to introduce the project. In terms of media coverage, our venture and the publicly funded plan have sometimes been painted as competing projects. This is not the case: we share the same goal – to build a tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki. We all want to find the best solution and having alternatives can help us to do so.

For the project to be realised rapidly, permission issues must be handled flexibly, and the extremely long complaint processes currently in place must be curtailed. This is the topic we raised with Finland’s Minister of Agriculture and the Environment Kimmo Tiilikainen at a meeting held on Friday 12 January 2018. Showing clear interest in the matter, the minister had invited Permanent Secretary Hannele Pokka and five experts to attend the meeting, which was scheduled to last for an hour and a half. We put every single minute of this allotted time to good use, and I believe we managed to convey our message.

With permission and planning matters handled without unnecessary delay, there is no reason why the project could not be realised relatively rapidly. This would also help attract backing from private investors. Both the Finnish and Estonian presidents have pledged to give their support to the initiative once permission and funding have been secured. This is a good starting point.

I hope that this 15 billion euro project can now move full steam ahead, giving us cause to write another article on the topic in the near future.

AINS Group wants to get the journey from Tampere to Helsinki down to half an hour

I’m writing this piece on a train from Tampere to Helsinki. This journey shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes. At least, that is what we thought when the idea about the one-hour train to Turku was first floated. Let’s have a 30-minute train to Tampere! Peter Vesterbacka discussed this goal in his recent meeting with the mayor of Tampere, Lauri Lyly.

Peter Vesterbacka has a knack for predicting future developments and potential, an ability that comes into its own in the design of infrastructure, which may remain in use for 100 years. High-speed rail technology is coming on in leaps and bounds. Trains that can achieve speeds of 350 km/h are more than a pipedream. 175 km / 350 km/h = 0.5 h. This means that a 30-minute journey is well within reach. So, instead of a third rail, should we be focusing our energies on a new rail link that allows high-speed travel?