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A Trans-European rail project, Rail Baltica, is aimed at connecting the Baltic states to the existing European rail network. The project will cover territories of the co-operating EU member states.
Touted to be the biggest joint project in the history of the Baltic countries, Rail Baltica is one of the European Union’s priority projects and falls under the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).
Rail Baltica will connect Finland, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Poland, while improving and updating the route in western Europe. It will unify European transport by connecting the Baltic region’s 1,520mm broad gauge track to the 1,435mm standard gauge track used by European countries.
A joint venture (JV) called RB Rail was set up by the Baltic states in 2014 to look after the implementation of the project. Located in Riga, the JV will be responsible for the design, construction and marketing of the new 1,435mm gauge railway.
COWI carried out a strategic feasibility study, sponsored by the European Commission, for the project.
Route details of Rail Baltica
Connecting Helsinki to Tallinn through a ferry connection, the Rail Baltica will continue on the 1,435mm line through Riga, Kaunas to Białystok and Warsaw in Poland, and further to Berlin.
Three major seaports Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga will be connected by the Rail Baltica, with a brief rail link to a fourth seaport, Klaipeda. The railway line between Tallinn and Warsaw will be approximately 950km (590 miles) long.
A feasibility study conducted by AECOM studied four different routes for the project and identified the Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevezys and Kaunas route as the direct and shortest route. The route was agreed upon by participating states in 2011.
Project timeline and benefits
The portion of the railway line in the Baltic states is expected to be completed by 2024. The line between Tallinn, Riga and Kaunas is expected to be operational by 2025 with the Warsaw link to be completed in 2030.
The project promotes the basic tenets of the European Union of providing equal access to infrastructure and services, creating more employment opportunities.
A new rail network will increase the speed of both passenger and cargo trains and reduce congestion on the roads, especially Via Baltica road and the highways of Poland and Germany.
Rail Baltica is estimated to enable the transport of approximately 13 million tons of cargo and create new trade opportunities between EU countries.
Design and construction of the Trans-European rail project
The Inspiro trains feature a driver’s cab on both ends, enabling them to run in both directions.
The Rail Baltica line is planned to be 729km long, including 235km in Latvia, 229km in Estonia and 264km in Lithuania.
Passenger trains are expected to run at a maximum speed of 240km/h, with an average speed of 170km/h. The maximum speed for freight trains is planned to be 120km/h.
In Estonia, a passenger terminal along with an integrated freight terminal based on modern technology is planned to be constructed in Ülemiste. Stops in Estonia are planned at Ülemiste, Tallinn and in Pärnu.
The project will be carried out in two stages, with the first stage involving the reconstruction of the 1,520mm wide rails in Latvia.
Work will be carried out by state-owned company Latvijas Dzelzceļš to ensure that the speed of the passenger and cargo trains increase up to 120km/h and 80km/h, respectively. Stage one is expected to be completed in 2015.
Stage two consists of constructing a new 1,435mm rail line that will meet European standards.
Financing for the Rail Baltica project
The Rail Baltica project is estimated to require an investment of €3.7bn ($4bn approximately), according to a techno-economic substantiation study conducted by AECOM in 2011.
The project will be jointly funded by the three Baltic nations, with Latvia investing €1.27bn ($1.39bn). European Union funds will account for approximately 85% of the financing.
Key players involved
A strategic feasibility study was conducted by COWI to determine the viability of the Rail Baltica project. Another study was conducted by AECOM to determine the best strategic route.
Negotiations for setting up the joint venture RB Rail were carried out by the law firm TRINITI. Reaalprojekt is responsible for preparing county plans and conducting preliminary design for Rail Baltica in Estonia.
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