HELSINKI -- The mayor of Helsinki has defended a protocol of intent he and the mayor of Tallinn signed last week to study the feasibility of a undersea railway tunnel linking the two capitals.
Jussi Pajunen told Finland's largest daily Helsingin Sanomat that there was nothing extraordinary about the project and that applying for funding for European projects was part of his job description and he filed dozens of such applications annually.
The protocol signed by the mayors on March 28 says the two capitals, which are about 80 kilometers apart on the shores of theBaltic Sea, attach great importance to the feasibility study of an undersea railway tunnel.
The mayors agreed that both the cities would submit an application in May for European Union funding for the feasibility study.
Several Helsinkipoliticians accused Pajunen in the daily Hufvudstadbladet of pushing the tunnel project without consulting with other politicians.
Pajunen told Helsingin Sanomat the question has been dealt with at the highest levels by Helsinki city officials.
Pajunen and the mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar, agreed that in view of the tunnel's increased topicality in connection with the development of the Rail Baltica corridor a feasibility study should be commissioned.
The estimated cost of the study is 0.5 to 0.8 million euros of which each sides is willing to contribute 100,000 euros, with the remainder hopefully being financed by the EU.
Helsingin Sanomat said the mayors had earlier applied for funds to their countries' respective ministries but without success - a fact that is unlikely to help when it comes to securing EU funds.
Savisaar and Pajunen agreed the cities would set up a working group of specialists headed by their deputies. The first meeting of the working group will be in Helsinki in the next few weeks.
Helsingin Sanomat said as yet there is no price tag attached to the project itself, though it would certainly run into billions of euros. The 50km tunnel linking France and the United Kingdom cost around GBP 4.6 billion by the time it opened in 1994. It took six years to build.
The world's longest transport tunnel is currently the Seikan rail tunnel in Japan. It opened in 1988 and cost $3.6bn. Like the Channel Tunnel, it has struggled to be cost effective in a world of cheap air and ferry travel.
If the Helsinki-Tallinn link were to be built, it would be one of the greatest feats of civil engineering yet undertaken.