Tallinn regional metro tunnel, revised

The central station of Tallinn (population 440 000) adjoins the Old Town, Vanalinn. This Old Town is built on a hill: the station (Balti Jaam) is on its north flank, close to the old port. That might seem a logical place to terminate the planned Rail Baltica high-speed line, but the government thinks otherwise. It wants to build a new interchange at Ülemiste, on the outskirts of the city, and that might lead to closure of the old main station. As in the other Baltic States, the Estonian government has a minimal commitment to rail travel, partly because it is seen as ‘Soviet’.

A beter alignment for a high-speed line (HSL) was proposed here earlier. By entering the city from the south-west, trains would be able to reach either Balti Jaam, or an interchange station at Ülemiste. A new 5-6 km tunnel could link those two stations, maximising interchange with between high-speed services and regional services.

Tallinn region lines

The tunnel is not intended for the high-speed trains, however. It is primarily intended for the existing Tallinn regional network, formerly Elektriraudtee, and now run by Elron. This network of 132 km around Tallinn, has the only electrified lines in Estonia. With further electrification, trains from the Rapla line might also use the tunnel. The line to Haapsalu could also be re-opened and electrified. All these lines are Russian gauge, although the Rapla line was originally narrow-gauge. The new tunnel would also have Russian-gauge tracks.

The function of the proposed tunnel is comparable with city-centre tunnels on other regional networks, such as the German S-Bahn and the French RER. The alignment proposed here would not run directly under the old town, but that is not necessary – it is all within walking distance of Balti Jaam.

Tallinn: public-domain satellite image by NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team…


Services from Tallinn run to Aegviidu (on the main line to St. Petersburg via Narva), to Paldiski via Keila, and to Riisipere via Keila. The 54-km line to Rapla via Saku could also carry regional servies.

The new tunnel would avoid reversal at Balti Jaam, balance traffic on the radial lines, create an east-west through service in the urban region, and allow better service of the central area. One or two new stations are possible on the tunnel section, serving the neighbourhoods directly east of the city centre. A station at the passenger ferry terminal is also possible, but difficult to construct. The additional capacity provided by the tunnel would also facilitate a new eastern line to Maardu. (The original version of this post suggested a line along Laagna tee, but it is better to serve Ülemiste).

Revised alignment

The first version of this post (2009) proposed a tunnel close to the Old Town, and a link back to the Keila lines. The alignment has been revised to avoid new buildings near the city centre, and the version here runs further east. It will pass close to the port basins, and that means that it must drop to under sea level. The tunnel will then climb toward Ülemiste, which is about 40 m above sea level. It might just be possible for the line to run on viaduct through the old port zone, which would simplify construction. (Most freight traffic has moved to the new port at Muuga).

Tallinn passenger terminal: image by Port of Tallinn under CC 3.0 licence


Assuming an underground line through the port, the tunnel would start just outside Balti Jaam station. It would have its own underground platforms. The line would then curve around the Old Town, passing just south of the passenger ferry terminal. It would in fact pass under a dock basin, but that is only used by yachts, and could be reconstructed, or closed if necessary.

The line would then turn south: the terrain slopes upward here, so probably in bored tunnel. This section could have one intermediate station where the line crosses Gonsiori, or possibly two, on the Narva road and Laagna tee.

S-Bahn Keskilinn

Approaching Ülemiste, the line would briefly follow the Tartu road, and then turn east to connect to the main line. As at Balti Jaam, there is insufficient space to link directly to Ülemiste station, so the line would serve underground platforms, and then climb to the surface tracks. The original version of this proposal suggested an airport branch, but that would not serve Ülemiste station. A people mover between the station and the airport terminal is a better solution, which would also benefit passengers using long-distance trains through Ülemiste.

Click to enlarge: station and airport at Ülemiste…

Ülemiste station airport

The tunnel alignment would be 5-6 km long, from Balti Jaam to Ülemiste. Service frequency would not be as high as large urban-regional metros (RER, S-Bahn). A new line along Paldiski Maantee is a possible addition to the system: it would connect directly to the underground platforms at Balti Jaam. A line to Maardu would diverge from the main line east of Ülemiste, possibly running along Peterburi tee.

Indicative routes only…

Maardu Haabersti lines

With all lines in the region double-tracked, there would be no capacity problems for the remaining long-distance services. With a separate regional service to Rapla, services to Viljandi and Pärnu could start from Balti Jaam, and run non-stop to Rapla. Trains to the proposed new line to Saaremaa could also start at Balti Jaam, and run non-stop to Keila. Services on the eastern main line, to Tartu, Narva, and St Petersburg, would also start from Balti Jaam, and stop at Ülemiste, giving a double interchange with the regional services through the tunnel. Regional services from Tallinn could be extended to Tapa, where the Tartu and Narva lines split (70 km from Tallinn).

Obviously there are other possible alignments for a central tunnel in Tallinn. A shorter tunnel could run from Tondi station to Ülemiste, with a station under Liivalaia street. However, such southern alignments would not serve the Old Town, and would not allow a station at the passenger ferry terminal. The alignment through Balti Jaam could be complemented by a north-south tram tunnel under the station and the Old Town, emerging in the newer central area (Südalinn).

Tallinn regional metro tunnel, revised

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