Peter Vesterbacka (50, Helsinki) is one of the most recognized people in Northern Europe. Known for his trademark red hoodie (some say he’s been wearing them since 2008), Vesterbacka has generally been involved in almost all aspects of Finland’s rise towards entrepreneurship. Every time I meet him, it's like as if he has become somehow younger, filled with enthusiasm towards something new. He is not ashamed of taking on outrageous projects nor is he afraid of talking loud, hustling or even failing, which sets him apart from the vast majority of his native Finns. Vesterbacka is known as one of the founders of the famous Slush conference in Helsinki, and as the evangelizer of Angry Birds game by Rovio, which became one of the biggest mobile games of all time and even spun out its own Hollywood animation movie
Vesterbacka along with his partner, Kustaa Valtonen, are currently involved in building one of the most ambitious construction projects in Europe.
Their idea is to physically connect Finland to Estonia through a 103-kilometre tunnel which will host bullet trains with the ability to reach Tallinn from Helsinki in just 20 minutes. This is a significant reduction in travel from the fastest current time of crossing the gulf which stands at 90 minutes (if weather permits) to the typical two and half hours. Along the way, they are planning to build an artificial island called, well, The Island, thousands of residential and commercial buildings and much more. The Island on its own is estimated to accommodate around 50,000 residents, a large convention centre and all of the life amenities a mini-city needs to function. And these guys aren’t just talking, they are really doing and the testament to that is the constant influx of investors from China, Russia and North America.
Talking with Vesterbacka is something like a category-5-hurricane experience. The speeds at which he moves and provides information is simply staggering. It almost feels like I have to wear a helmet and safety goggles. No matter what the topic is with Vesterbacka, there is always the Pro-Finland baseline, “Why shouldn’t we be proud of our country, it’s the greatest on Earth” says Vesterbacka wearing his rare but famous smile. This is the guy who spent 8 weeks in China to “learn some Chinese so that I can connect to their culture” – which he did.
Almost as soon as I sat down, I have two seconds to sip my Chinese green tea when the hurricane man starts his incredible wind whirl, “This tunnel will make Finland and Estonia extremely connected and competitive, right now our travel methods to Tallinn are not optimal enough, we should do better”. And he is right, the journey from ether city to the other takes minimum of 2 hours and is done by ferries which cross the Gulf of Finland, but they rely on the weather which means that during some days the ferries cannot cross at all and that halts everything. “Current infrastructure is just not good enough, we can’t wait for someone to provide a solution, so we decided to solve it ourselves”, says Vesterbacka without any pause for taking in a breath.
According to the Port of Helsinki report of 2017, Helsinki is the busiest passenger harbour in Europe with over 12 Million passengers connecting Helsinki to St Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Tallinn and Rostock in Germany, and beyond. From all of these connections, the busiest one is the Tallinn route which ships over 9 million travellers annually.
The tunnel, known as the FinEst (a portmanteau of Finland and Estonia) Tunnel, is something of an engineering marvel, at least on paper. At 103 Km of length, it is projected to hold two high-speed train tunnels which at their deepest point will reach 200 meters, with the capacity to conduct essential communication cables such as the ultra-high-speed internet, which is badly needed to increase the competitiveness of regional tech firms.
The projected ticket prices are set to be around €50 for a single journey and around €100 for a return, with annual passes available from €2000 (the price currently for crossing the gulf in a ferry with a car is around €70 to €120). At an estimated construction cost of €15 billion, the tunnel doesn’t come cheap and the team estimates that by 2030 over 50 million passengers will use the tunnel annually. Vesterbacka remains bullish with an estimation that the FinEst tunnel will pay itself back in just 17 years. In addition to the tunnel, Vesterbacka and Co have grand plans for upgrading the “silicon valley” area of Finland, known as Otaniemi where nearby stands the headquarters of Fortum, Nokia and Kone. There Vesterbacka says, will be two of the tallest towers in Europe with a slew of smaller commercial towers that will host more national and international tech companies than anywhere else in Finland.
The cleverness of the tunnel becomes evident when Vesterbacka shifts up to his top gear, “We are the Heart of Eurasia, the closest EU nation to China, Japan and Russia, the country with the best education system in the world, one with the cleanest air in Europe and the least corrupt nation on Earth, and with this tunnel we also will be one of the most competitive”, preaches Vesterbacka. It is hard to deny his reasoning for this project, the cities are two of the most advanced and entrepreneurial in Europe, although with very similar cultures (the language and traditions of Estonia and Finland have a very strong connection), however, they do not share a land border which has hindered the development. Vesterbacka hopes that this tunnel will improve bilateral collaboration across all sectors.
“Right now, the Chinese and Russian investors are flocking to Helsinki for various reasons, but they hesitate to cross the gulf into Tallinn for some reason, and other way around, however, providing them with a 20 minute ride instead of a 2 and half hour journey, which might not take place due to the weather, will make things so much easier for the visitors to make the trip across the Gulf of Finland” says Valtonen. To mark the occasion, the FinEst team partnered up with Helsinki Distillery Company to create a special Tunnel Vodka. Only in Finland.
The long-term vision of the FinEst tunnel is to connect Helsinki to the fast line of Rail Baltica (250 km / 155 mph) which started construction in 2010 with estimated completion date set for 2026, which is set to connect Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and eventually open up the Baltics and the Nordics to the European rail network.
“Ideally we can travel from Helsinki to Vilnius or Warsaw in a matter of 4-5 hours and save the pressure on the environment", says proudly Peter Vesterbacka.
FinEst web: https://finestbayarea.online/