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Helsinki-St. Petersburg axis aims for dominance in Baltic Sea region
Fast train connection between cities aimed to add momentum to cooperation plans
The future dominance of the Baltic Sea will belong to Helsinki and St. Petersburg; that is, if the plans of a fast train connection all the way to Central Europe will materialise. So believes Helsinki’s Mayor Jussi Pajunen.
“Only twenty years ago the Baltic Sea’s centre of gravity was still in Stockholm, but the momentum of development has since swung eastwards”, Pajunen charges.
The development of train traffic was one of the subjects covered when Pajunen and Aleksandr Vahmistrov, Vice Governor of St. Petersburg, discussed the future of cooperation between the two cities in Helsinki on Wednesday.
A fast train connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg will be realised already in 2011, reducing the travel time from the present five and a half hours to three and a half hours. Later plans include shaving off another half an hour from the journey time.
Both cities hope that the fast connection will boost both tourism and interaction between businesses.
“Once the customs practices have been streamlined the train connection will be a competitive alternative. At present opting for the train does not enable one-day visits”, says Vahmistrov.
The Vice Governor believes that facilitating smoother visa practices will be one of the topics of conversation when the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev meets his Finnish colleague Tarja Halonen in Helsinki next week.
“But that issue is not something to be changed overnight.”
Pajunen’s vision is that the St. Petersburg connection could be linked with the Rail Baltica track from Tallinn, Estonia, to Central Europe.
“For Helsinki that would be a logistics jackpot.”
In the first instance trains would be transported from Helsinki to Tallinn on ferries. Pajunen still believes that the idea of constructing a tunnel under the Gulf of Finland will materialise one day.
“In the long run a fixed connection is a realistic plan, albeit an expensive one."
Vice Governor Vahmistrov is more reserved with his take on the plan.
“As an idea it is good, but we have to remain realistic. This is a distant future project, and a pricy one at that.”
Helsinki and St. Petersburg will also continue cooperation on the environmental front. Cooperation between Helsinki Water and the St Petersburg water utility Vodokanal just celebrated its 20th anniversary. According to Pajunen, the fruits of this cooperation are noteworthy.
“The Helsinki Water experts have practically trained the Vodokanal people”, the Mayor boasts.
This cooperation partly contributed to the construction of St. Petersburg’s southwestern water treatment plant in 2005. Currently a northern collector sewer is under construction. Once it has been completed, 95 per cent of St. Petersburg’s sewage will be treated.
“Apart from building water treatment plants, we also have to initiate a campaign focusing on developing a new attitude towards the Baltic Sea. The sea must not be seen simply as something to be consumed and taken advantage of. This programme does not call for large investments”, Vahmistrov says.