This is from an article in today's Guardian about a rail tunnel linking Finland and Estonia:
The dream has been given added impetus by a recent preliminary study which suggested that the fixed link could be built for between €9bn and €13bn (£6.6bn-£9.5bn), would treble travel and boost trade between the cities in its first decade, and see 25m journeys by 2040.
The undersea tunnel is made particularly attractive because of a planned €3.6bn Rail Baltica high-speed train line, which will run from Tallinn to Poland and link into western Europe’s rail networks – and could also potentially connect Helsinki directly via train to Berlin and beyond.
The cities are, however, banking on Brussels paying several billion euros towards the scheme, and have applied for EU funding to carry out full feasibility studies.
Although the article seems to concentrate more on the benefits to the cities of Helsinki and Tallinn, one of the factors that would make the project feasible would be that it would form part of the already-planned Rail Baltica high-speed train line, linking the Baltic States to Poland and Germany.
I think this is a very good idea, and would like to see it happen. However it struck me that the economic and technical feasibility of a rail tunnel between Estonia and Finland is almost identical to the economic and technical feasibility of a similar link between Wales and Ireland.
First, the distances involved are about the same. The distance between Finland and Estonia is about 75km, and the distance between Ireland and Wales is about 80km for the southern link (or 95km for the northern link) although the actual tunnel length will obviously be greater. Both maps below are to the same scale.
Finland and Ireland are remarkably similar in that they are roughly the same size in terms of population (Finland has 5.5m people, Ireland has 6.5m) and are both relatively rich in European terms. Finland has a GDP per head of 110% of the EU average, Ireland (the Republic) has a GDP per head of 134% of the EU average ... although adding the poorer Six Counties will bring that down. So although the costs of such infrastructure links are very large, the benefits to the more remote country at a European-wide scale, and therefore the economic feasibility of the project, are probably greater for a link to Ireland than for a link to Finland.
But there is also a remarkable parallel between Estonia and Wales as the poorer, less remote, countries. This map (click here for an interactive version) shows GDP per head at a NUTS 2 level.
The GDP per capita of Helsinki-Uusimaa is €39,300, and is €38,800 for Southern and Eastern Ireland. Estonia's is €19,500, West Wales and the Valleys' is €17,900, East Wales' is €24,900. So in just the same way as Estonia will benefit at a more local level from better links to a richer next-door neighbour, so will Wales benefit at a local level from better links to our richer next-door neighbour. Should anyone need reminding, the Republic of Ireland has a higher GDP per head than the UK.
I'm sure some people would dismiss the idea of a rail links between either Finland and Estonia or Ireland and Wales as a pipe dream. However I would say that long-term planning of this sort is necessary. We have to decide what we want our continent to look like and how we want it to work. If we suffered from a similar lack of foresight, we would have neither the Channel Tunnel between France and England, nor the Øresund (or Öresund) Bridge between Denmark and Sweden ... and I would find it hard to imagine a Europe without such links.
My point is simply that if there is a case for a rail tunnel between Finland and Estonia, then there is an equal, if not better, case for a rail tunnel between Ireland and Wales.