On the initiative of the prospective developer Peter Vesterbacka, Estonia’s Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab today met the potential developers of the proposed Tallinn-Helsinki undersea rail tunnel as well as the prospective funders of the project. At the meeting, Minister Jaak Aab elaborated what more specific information is necessary for the Estonian authorities in order to form a position on the tunnel project.
“Estonia supports the idea of a Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel that would be connected to the future Rail Baltic railway both for passenger and freight transport,” the Minister of Public Administration, Mr Jaak Aab said at the meeting. “The state’s position on the national designated spatial plan for planning the tunnel is still under consideration. Here, the more specific information that we expect from the potential developer is vital. For example, we need to understand how the developer has come to their prognosis of estimated passenger and freight volumes that exceeds many times over the prognosis in the feasibility study of the FinEst Link project, commissioned by the governments of Estonia and Finland.”
In addition, Minister Aab noted that completing the project in the proposed time frame is not feasible. According to what is proposed by Finest Bay Area Development Oy, the planning process would already be concluded in the third quarter of 2020. Taking into account the experience of previous planning processes for large infrastructure projects and the time needed for studies and analyses necessary, the planning process alone may take until 2024 to conclude.
At today’s meeting, Minister Aab also explained the differences of the spatial planning procedure in Estonia and Finland. In Estonia, only one spatial planning process is necessary to plan the tunnel. This will encompass both land and sea areas. If the plan is approved, the design and licencing phase may commence. In Finland, environmental impact assessment procedure has been initiated by the developer but this is not linked to any planning or licencing procedures. In Finland, for the tunnel to be constructed, county, municipality, and detail planning processes are necessary, followed by licencing processes. Currently, the Uusimaa county plan is being drafted in Finland and this includes, inter alia, consideration of the possible Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel initative.
Participants at the meeting included representatives from Finest Bay Area Development Oy, China Railway International Group, Touchstone Capital Partners, Sorainen and VP AINS.
According to the analysis commissioned by the governments of Finland and Estonia under the FinEst Link project, operating an undersea tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki could start in 2040 at the earliest. For the tunnel project to succeed, adequate forecasts have to be taken as the basis for designing and funding the project.
Estonia considers it critical for the project to be run in accordance with Estonian and Finnish regulations as well as and principles and rules common to the European Union and that all possible environmental impacts be taken into account. An undersea tunnel between Finland and Estonia can only be constructed in cooperation with both the governments. In order to facilitate this, Mr Taavi Aas, Estonia’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, forwarded his Finnish counterpart a draft memorandum of understanding on developing the tunnel.