Business World

Thursday 21 November 2019

Tunnel vision: A mix of public and private funding gets projects off the ground

THE BIG PICTURE

Additional reporting by Reuters

WHILE Ireland faces being cut off by Brexit from the traditional cross-Britain land route to continental Europe, elsewhere, undersea tunnels are set to shrink journey times.

German authorities have given their approval to an €7bn rail and road tunnel linking Denmark and Germany, despite environmental objections.

The 19km Fehmarnbelt link, connecting the Danish island of Lolland to the island of Fehmarn on the German side, was due to be completed in 2024, but has been delayed by environmental protests in Germany.

The project, priced at 52.6bn Danish crowns (€7.08bn), comprises a four-lane motorway and a two-track railway. It is part-funded by the EU.

Fehmarn is already connected by road to the German mainland, and the new link will greatly speed up road and rail connections from the German cities of Hamburg, Bremen and Hannover to the Danish capital, Copenhagen, and the Swedish city of Malmo.

Meanwhile, further east in the Baltic, passengers can already buy tickets for trips through what would be the world's longest undersea rail link, between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn - if it gets built.

The €15bn-€20bn project, led by Peter Vesterbacka, a former executive at Angry Birds game maker Rovio, and his FinEst Bay Area company, has raised €100m from Dubai-based construction company ARJ Holding, its first external funding commitment.

It has yet to secure government or European Union backing, however.

But tens of thousands of Estonians work in the Helsinki area, making a weekly commute by sea, while Tallinn is a popular tourist spot for Finns. A tunnel would cut the travel time to around 20 minutes from the current two-hour ride on a fast ferry.

A 100-km (60-mile) tunnel would be only slightly shorter than the distance between Dublin and Holyhead.

Finland and Estonia have, for years, considered linking their capitals, which are divided by the Gulf of Finland. A feasibility study commissioned by the two governments and published last year said the planned 100-km (60-mile) tunnel could open in 2040, but Mr Vesterbacka said the tunnel would be built by 2024.

Last month, Mr Vesterbacka told a news conference he expected further funding to come from Asia and China.

"To have the first external funding is a significant step for the whole project... The Helsinki-Tallinn area will in the future be one of the fastest-growing metropoles in Europe," Mr Vesterbacka said, adding that talks with Helsinki, Tallinn and the two national governments were positive. The governments have previously said they were open to Mr Vesterbacka's plans and to allowing private investors fund the project.

Finland and Estonia want the tunnel to form part of the EU's core network of routes deemed vital for European and global transport flows.

Irish Independent

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