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Angry Birds creator seeking tunnel funding

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PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

Experts’ doubts concerning the cost-efficiency of a Tallinn-Helsinki undersea tunnel do not worry popular mobile game “Angry Birds” creator Peter Vesterbacka, who has set about looking for international financing for the project.

Vesterbacka has decided to construct the tunnel using only private funding and is awaiting a meeting with a delegation from China to launch talks for financing at the Slush startup event in Singapore in November,” Helsingin Sanomat reports.

“I can go into more detail when the talks have been concluded. I can only say that the tunnel will be constructed exclusively using private resources,” Vesterbacka said.

“We are not seeking financing from the Finnish or Estonian governments, nor are we looking in the European Union’s direction. The bulk of the funding will come from China, with Scandinavian pensions funds contributing a smaller part,” he continued.

The businessman said the tunnel will pay for itself in 37 years. The profit would come mainly from passenger traffic a considerable part of which would be Chinese tourists visiting Finland and Estonia. “Carriage of goods would take place primarily at night,” Vesterbacka speculated. He believes construction work could begin in the 2030s.

Vesterbacka learned Chinese to be on the same page as his partners. “If you’re asking them for €15 billion, it is better to do it in their own language,” he said. An assessment from a few years ago puts the price of the 85-kilometer tunnel at €9-13 billion.

Vesterbacka told Postimees of his plans a year ago.

Why do you think the Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel will be a success? We have the negative example of the Eurotunnel.

The Eurotunnel is a completely different affair. The distance between London and Paris is much greater. They cannot be compared. London and Brussels are much closer to each other, and as is evident in Brexit, London is located on an island and is not an equal partner for Europe.

However, let us look at Helsinki. It is already the busiest passenger hub in Europe. It has 20 million annual passengers through the airport; eight million people take the ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn, with the trip currently taking two hours. Cutting that time to 20 minutes with the help of the tunnel… and I’m not talking about Hyperloop, just a fast train…

Modern technology allows us to cut the travel time to 20 minutes. We will construct four stations: Tallinn, Otakeila, Espoo, and Helsinki airport (Vantaa). It would take 20 minutes to go from here to Helsinki airport, and you could be in Beijing just a few hours later. Helsinki aerodrome will become a fantastic airport for Tallinn.

I think it is highly realistic. Looking at passenger figures, the number of people taking the train will grow to 20 million a year in which case a ticket price of €50 would yield €1 billion annually. The tunnel would serve for 100-120 years. Taking into consideration flat or negative interest rates, passenger figures we can already achieve, and global carriage of goods, the plan is very realistic indeed.

I believe it is a fantastic business opportunity. The Eurotunnel does not compare to the Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel project.

Three-four years ago, there was considerable enthusiasm for the tunnel on the Finnish side, while Estonia did not take it seriously. Has something changed in the Estonian side’s attitude in your opinion?

The people I’ve met in Estonia have been enthusiastic about the tunnel, and I can say the same about the Finnish side. I’ve never met anyone opposed to the tunnel plan. I believe many have been skeptical of the project’s profitability and feasibility.

Constructing a tunnel is a simple affair from a technological point of view; it is not rocket science. As far as the business side is concerned, one can always say something has potential, as well as that it is a harebrained idea.

I will say I can make the tunnel work as a business project based on passenger traffic alone. However, when I said I left Rovio on a quest for economic growth, look at the tunnel and its neighbors – massive real estate development on both sides. It impresses Chinese capital. China is investing all over the globe, and investing here is one part of their plan. It is a natural starting point, just as it was in the 60s and 70s of the previous century when Japanese companies came to Finland to move on from here.

I believe the most important aspect is that the tunnel will kick-start or restart growth. I believe growth needs revitalizing on both sides of the gulf. That is when people will begin to see opportunity.

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