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Transport / Benefits of tunnels in Faroe are clear, travel company chief says

The Eysturoyartunnilin tunnel. Photo: Ólavur Frederiksen

AS THE CEO and co-founder of the largest travel company in Faroe, Hogni Reistrup knows all about the impact subsea tunnels have had there.

“It’s just so remarkable how infrastructure just makes an area more resilient,” he reflects.

Reistrup points to population growth and increased accessibility as some of the key benefits of Faroe’s four subsea tunnels.

It comes amid a continued push for tunnels as replacements for ferries on some of Shetland’s busiest island routes.

Supporters say tunnels could stem depopulation in some of Shetland’s islands, boost economic activity and give the community greater freedom.

Those unsure about the idea of linking the likes of Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay to the Shetland mainland by tunnel may point at the cost, and the change it would bring to traditional island life.

But for Reistrup, who runs Guide to Faroe Islands, the benefits experienced by the self-governing Faroe – which has a population of just over 50,000 – since their first subsea tunnel in 2002 are clear.

“Once you get the tunnel or the infrastructure…it’s hard to imagine how beneficial it is for the community,” he told Shetland News.

The first subsea tunnel ran to Vágar, where Faroe’s airport is located, and it covers nearly five kilometres.

“There were predictions of how many cars would drive through the tunnel every day […] but it just exceeded those predictions, and it’s been growing ever since,” Reistrup said.

He added that more than 70,000 vehicles drove through the tunnel to Vágar in December, which was more than double initial predictions.

The Eysturoyartunnilin tunnel, which opened in 2020, registered nearly 180,000 vehicle movements during December.

Reistrup said some benefits experienced in Faroe include making it easier for families to visit each other, and for communities to take part in activities – he used the example of sports teams finding it easier to travel – as well as businesses having new markets.

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People can also get an ambulance to hospital more quickly, he said, rather than relying on a ferry.

He suggested having tunnels has also enabled flights to arrive and depart from Vágar at an earlier time of the day.

Reistrup said tourism has grown over the last number of years, and he used the example of the famous waterfall which drops into the sea at Múlafossur.

People can get to it using the Gásadalur tunnel, which was constructed in 2006.

The waterfall sits near to a tiny community of around 15 people, and it being more accessible has seen it become a local landmark.

“It turned out that the waterfall in that village has become the most iconic attraction for the Faroe Islands,” he said.

But Reistrup said the population of the community, around 15, has remained the same.

The waterfall at Múlafossur. Photo: Ekrem Canli, via Wikimedia Commons

That is not the experience of some other islands, which have seen their population increase.

“Once we have got underwater tunnels, the population on the main islands have always seen an increase in population, and you can also see it in housing prices,” Reistrup said.

“Once a tunnel is constructed and that has opened, the housing prices in those remoter areas increased a lot.”

The newest tunnel opened at the end of 2023, linking the islands of Streymoy and Sandoy.

Reistrup said some locals were emotional – “they had their ferry, and they liked it”.

But, perhaps echoing Shetland, the ferry had suffered mechanical issues, and also suffered weather cancellations.

Tunnels are naturally not cheap to construct, and in Faroe they have been financed using a mix of government funding and loans, and have involved publicly-held limited companies.

Faroe grabbed headlines a few years ago when the 11km Eysturoyartunnilin subsea tunnel opened, as it included the world’s first underwater roundabout.

Despite the initial capital costs, with people having to pay toll fees to use the tunnels Reistrup said they are paying themselves back.

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