Rail Baltica – fast and environmentally friendly rail connection to Europe
The Rail Baltica project is being referred to as a symbolic return of the Baltic States to Europe (until the Second World War the Baltic States were already connected to Europe with 1435 mm wide tracks). It is also being named the “Second Baltic Way”, where symbolic parallels can be drawn to the 25 year old history when people from all the three Baltic States showed initiative of the Baltic countries’ inhabitants and indicated their opinion about renewal of the independence in all three countries by joining their hands and standing on the ViaBaltica road.
Rail Baltica is a rail transport project with a goal to integrate the Baltic States in the European rail network. The project includes four European Union countries – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and indirectly also Finland since the connection Tallinn-Helsinki with the project is being prolonged.
While the most part of European countries use the track width of 1435 mm, Latvia as well as the other Baltic States still use the rail tracks that were built according to standards of Russia, having the rail width of 1520 mm. This is the reason why the current Baltic railway network and train carriages cannot be used to connect to the railway network of Poland and Germany.
Following the regain of independence of the Baltic States in the 90s of the past century, an idea about connecting the Baltic States to “the heart of Europe” was born. The idea intended to renew direct connection to the railway network of Europe by building a new European standard 1435 mm wide railway in the Baltic States and connecting such metropoles as Tallinn – Riga – Kaunas – Warsaw – Berlin (and prolonging the route to Venice in the future). Indirectly this route includes also Finland, since the planning incorporates an idea to build an underwater tunnel, which could connect Tallinn and Helsinki by train. Another idea would be to open a rail ferry between these cities thus enlarging the impact of the project to the Scandinavian countries as well.
Rail Baltica – it is a Baltic railway, the building of which would ensure independence to the transport system of the Baltic States and mobility of the inhabitants by using a safe, modern, fast and environmentally friendly transport which would in turn create a potential for new development, jobs and increased competitiveness.
When talking about the benefits of the project, it is pointed out that the Baltic railway infrastructure will be connected to the European railway corridor. In case of a successful project implementation, in 16 years of time, high quality rail connection between the Baltic States and the biggest economic, administrative and culture centers of Western Europe will be ensured. Opportunities for a new cargo way (Nordic – Southern) as well as the development of logistics services are expected. The tourism, regions and new working places will be developed and the national safety of Latvia will be increased. It has been estimated that at least 1.5 billion euros will flow into the economy of Latvia.
Thanks to the new railway network, not only the rail cargo volumes but also the speed will be increased, in addition it will be possible to decrease the travelling time of the passenger trips, as well as to decrease the car stream on ViaBaltica road and on the highways of Poland and Germany, thus encouraging development of a much more environmentally friendly transport – railway.
Those are the reasons, why it can be ensured that this project is going to become a significant driving force for the field of transport and logistics. It will transport at least 13 million tons of cargo a year thus opening new opportunities for mutual trade between EU countries and, possibly, also in a further future by connecting the corridor of cargo to the countries of Eurasia. The benefits of the project will be appreciated by at least five million passengers a year.
The Rail Baltica project is performed in two stages. Until the year 2015, in Latvia the State Owned Joint Stock Company Latvijas dzelzceļš is arranging and reconstructing the wide rails (1520mm), that cover the Baltic railway line, in order to first ensure the speed growth of up to 120 km/h of the passenger trains and 80 km/h of the cargo trains (first stage: Rail Baltica I).
The second stage of the project (Rail Baltica II) contains building of a new European standard width (1435 mm) railway line. It is expected that until the beginning of 2016 the Rail Baltica II will be imposed and the rail line in Latvia will be technically explored in detail, which predicts that technical solutions and potential placements of Rail Baltica according to economical and legally possible placement options will be presented, as well as the engineering studies done for the technical solutions and examinations on the impact of the environment done. This will be completed in order to begin the preliminary building design of the railway line and the process of land expropriation until the year 2019, to start the building process in 2020 and to open the connection Tallinn – Riga – Kaunas already in 2025, being followed by the connection to Warsaw in 2030.
According to the technical economical substantiation performed in 2011 by Great Britain’s company Aecom Ltd., in order to fulfill one of the biggest and most ambitious co-projects between the Baltic States, all the three states will pay 3.68 billion euro together, Latvia investing 1.27 billion euro. The lion’s share of the project is covered by the European Union in addition to the payments done by each of the countries.
The total length of Rail Baltica is planned to be 729 km of which 235 km will be in the territory of Latvia. The maximum speed for passanger trains is planned to be 240 km/h, the average speed being – 170 km/h. The train trip between Tallinn and border of Lithuania/Poland is estimated to be around 4 hours.
Useful informative internet sites about the Rail Baltica project: