Rail Baltica (also known as Rail Baltic in Estonia) is an ongoing greenfield railway infrastructure project to link Finland (via ferry or an undersea tunnel), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania with Poland and through this with the European standard gauge rail line network. Its purpose is to provide passenger and freight service between participating countries and improve rail connections between Central and Northern Europe. Furthermore, it is intended to be a catalyst for building the economic corridor in Northeastern Europe. The project envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn (Estonia) to Warsaw (Poland). It consists of links via Riga (Latvia), Kaunas and Vilnius (Lithuania). Rail Baltica is one of the priority projects of the European Union: Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T).
|Locale||Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland|
|Type||Public high-speed railway|
|System||Rail Baltica (European gauge railway)|
|Services||Tallinn–Pärnu–Riga–Riga International Airport–Panevėžys–Kaunas/Vilnius–Lithuania/Polish Border|
|Number of tracks||Double track|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge (primary)|
|Electrification||25 kV AC overhead|
|Operating speed||249 km/h (passenger); 120 km/h (freight)|
According to a study produced by Ernst & Young, the measurable socio-economic benefits are estimated at 16.2 billion euros. The assessed GDP multiplier effect the Rail Baltica Global Project would create is an additional 2 billion euros. According to the same study, Rail Baltic will save an estimated 400 human lives in the span of 29 years. As of January 2020, the high-speed railway connection from Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border was expected to be completed by 2026. As of June 2020, the undersea railway tunnel between Tallinn and Helsinki was visioned to be completed around mid-2026.
Proposed environmental impactEdit
Rail Baltica will be an electric railway, motivated by a desire to reduce carbon emissions. The railway has been planned to avoid Natura 2000 protected areas, in addition to minimising impacts on other environmentally-sensitive protected areas, and existing 1,520 mm gauge railway networking areas. Wherever necessary, noise protection barriers will be installed. Special animal passages will be built through the embankment.
The railway project will enable intermodality and multimodality (i.e. transportation of freight through two or more methods of transportation). Rail Baltica includes plans for three multimodal freight terminals which will be located in Muuga Harbour (Estonia), Salaspils (Latvia), and Kaunas (Lithuania). This is intended to create synergies with the existing 1,520 mm railway system infrastructure. Seven international passenger stations (in Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Riga Airport, Panevežys, Kaunas, Vilnius) with potential regional stations and connections to airports and seaports.
Rail Baltica will be built as a new, publicly owned, fast conventional double-track (quadruple track if the railway will run freight trains) electrified and ERTMS-equipped railway line with a maximum speed of 249 km/h for passenger trains and 120 km/h for freight trains. The new railway line will be designed with a 1,435 mm gauge. Other key technical parameters include the following:
- The maximum freight train length will be 1,050 m.
- The maximum axle load will be 25 tonnes.
- There should be no level crossing with roads and with 1,520 mm railways for the Rail Baltica infrastructure.
- For maintenance and emergency services, access to the main line should be every 2–3 km and in specific areas.
- The railway will have ballasted track.
- Its energy system should be 25 kV.
- Its double track side should be right-hand running.
- It is ERTMS Level 2, Baseline 3.
Its parameters are in accordance with the EU Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI – P2, F1).
The planning phase of Rail Baltica took place from 2010 to 2017. The design phase began in 2016, with design activities at the Riga Central Passenger Station and the Riga International Airport passenger station in Latvia to be continued till 2023. Meanwhile, the construction of the Rail Baltica infrastructure is planned to start in 2019 and should be completed in 2026.
The section from Helsinki to Tallinn will be operated by existing commercial ferries. In the future, a proposed Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel could provide a rail link between the two cities. The length of the railway between Tallinn and Warsaw will be at least 950 kilometres (590 mi). Total length of the Baltic railway part will be 870 km.
In 2017, all three Baltic parliaments ratified the Inter-Governmental Agreement for the Rail Baltica project, thereby confirming their long-term commitment to the Rail Baltica project. In addition, Rail Baltica Global Project's cost-benefit analysis was delivered by Ernst & Young and Atkins International experts, based on the European Union's CBA guidelines, proving that the project is financially feasible and viable, and its measurable benefits will outweigh the costs.
On 14 February 2018, the Ministry of Public Administration of the Republic of Estonia approved the spatial plan for the Rail Baltica railway in Estonia, leading to the setting of the final route and preliminary design of the railway in this northern Baltic State. The spatial planning for the entire line was approved in Latvia by the decision of the Latvian Government in August 2016, and followed by the approval of the Lithuanian Government in January 2017 for their respective section from Kaunas to the Lithuanian-Latvian border in Lithuania (The route for the section Kaunas–Lithuania/Poland State border, known as Rail Baltica I, is subject to the results of the Upgrade Feasibility study). In the light of Estonia's decision, the spatial territorial planning and preliminary technical design of the Rail Baltica railway in the Baltic States has been finalised.
The Rail Baltica project has entered the design phase in all three Baltic States with the approval of the Detailed Design Guidelines for Rail Baltica. For certain sections the work on the consolidated preliminary technical design, tendering the detailed technical design services and preparation of BIM strategy has finished. On 20 March 2018, the first Rail Baltica construction design and supervision contract of Rail Baltica's Riga International Airport railway station, related infrastructure and viaduct was signed by "Eiropas Dzelzceļa līnijas" SIA and the winner of the open International tender – partnership of suppliers from three countries "PROSIV" ("Sintagma" (Italy), "Prodex" (Slovakia) and "Vektors T" (Latvia)).
In 2018, the long-term Business Plan, Operational Plan, the Upgraded Feasibility Study of the European gauge railway line from Kaunas to Lithuanian/Polish border, Infrastructure Management Study and other studies related to commercialisation and supply materials were finalized. In 2019, the first cornerstone of Rail Baltica was laid in Estonia to mark the beginning of construction of Saustinõmme viaduct. Also, detailed technical design contracts for the sections Tallinn-Rapla and Pärnu-Rapla in Estonia, Kaunas-Ramygala and Ramygala-Latvian/Lithuanian border in Lithuania, Vangaži-Salaspils-Misa and main line through Riga in Latvia were signed. With the contracts signed, geotechnical research was started in different sections of the railway in order to gather information about the soil.
In 2020, the development of detailed technical design is being continued in 643 km of the main track, which includes all railway sections in Estonia and Latvia as well as sections from Kaunas to Latvian/Lithuanian border in Lithuania.
In Latvia, the Riga Central Station construction was officially started with ceremonies on 23.11.2020. Project implementer of Riga Airport Station has also been chosen and construction is planned to begin in may 2021. Technical with NGOs in Riga have been started, to discuss the project technical solutions, especially crossings, overpasses and other infrastructure elements in the city.
In Estonia, discussions about Environmental Impact assessment have been started and several meetings are planned until the end of 2020. During the discussions, people are invited to ask questions regarding the upcoming changes in environment, while various technical solutions are presented.
The Beneficiaries of the Rail Baltica project are ministries of the three Baltic States – Estonia's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Latvia's Ministry of Transport and Lithuania's Ministry of Transport and Communications. In 2014 they established a joint venture RB RAIL AS to be the Main Coordinator and project implementer for the purpose of completing the railway and developing the Rail Baltica project. Its main business is the design, construction and marketing of the railway. RB Rail AS also submits EU financing proposals for the Rail Baltica purchasing body for all parties for the procurement of studies, plans, designs for the global project, sub-systems (Control, Command, and Signalling and Energy/Electrification), raw materials and key components, and cross-border track sections.
Rail Baltic Estonia OU in Estonia, Eiropas Dzelzceļa līnijas SIA in Latvia, Rail Baltica statyba UAB and Lietuvos Geležinkeliu Infrastruktūra in Lithuania are the national Implementing Bodies. All construction carried out by the implementing bodies is done under the supervision of RB Rail AS and is based on common procurement principles, rules and contract templates.
The total estimated cost of the Rail Baltica Global project is 5.8 billion euros in all three Baltic States according to the Cost-Benefit Study carried out by EY in 2017.
The Feasibility study of Rail Baltica in the three Baltic States carried out by AECOM in 2011 had estimated cost of 3.6 billion euros for the railway and proved that Rail Baltica is economically viable. Based on that study, key political and practical decisions – both on the national and EU level – were made to implement Rail Baltica.
Since the AECOM study the project has matured, and essential elements have subsequently been added to the Rail Baltica Global Project for better connectivity, passenger mobility and inter-modality. Additions to the Global Project include routing the Rail Baltica passenger mainline through the Riga International Airport and construction of the airport passenger station (Latvia), the Kaunas–Vilnius connection (Lithuania), an improved connection in Kaunas city (Lithuania), and construction of the tram line "Ülemiste-Tallinn airport" (Estonia). Moreover, the Environmental Impact Assessments, spatial planning and some preliminary designs have been prepared allowing to better estimate the investments needed for the project.
Thus, in April 2017, the overall cost of the Rail Baltica Global Project implementation in three countries, including the construction of the Kaunas-Vilnius section, was estimated at about €5.8 billion. According to the Ernst & Young (EY) cost-benefit analysis, the project's economic feasibility and benefits society will gain was proved, providing the necessary updated parameters for continued EU and national co-financing of the project.
The project's profitability lies in its wider socio-economic benefits, which are estimated by EY at around €16.22 billion. In addition, there will be several immeasurable (mostly, catalytic) benefits that would be created by Rail Baltica through regional integration, tourism development, new business creation, increased attractiveness to FDI, access to new export markets, technological transfer, innovation, etc.
The project is financed by the member states and the European Union TEN-T budget, and the Structural and Cohesion Funds provided to the EU New Member States. By the start of 2018, the three Baltic States and RB RAIL AS have received two grants designed under the CEF for the construction of the Rail Baltica railway, having signed Grant Agreements with a total value of 765 million euros. As of 13 July, third Grant agreement was signed for the total amount of 130 million euros from which 110 million euros is CEF contribution.
In July 2020, another CEF funding was received, amounting to EUR 216 million for construction, technical design and planning works, therefore the project has received around EUR 1.2 billion from the EU and national funds.
Route and standardEdit
In 2011, the three Baltic States agreed on a route connecting Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevėžys, and Kaunas. A feasibility study for this option estimated the line will cost about €3.68 billion in total.
Initially two options were considered. Both options included an upgrade of the existing railway (with standard gauge) to 160 km/h (99 mph) for the stretch that runs from Warsaw via Białystok and Ełk to Trakiszki, followed by a new railway with standard gauge Trakiszki–Kaunas. For the remainder of the route to Tallinn two different options were considered:
- Option one was to upgrade the existing railway from Joniškis via Riga and Tartu to Tallinn to 160 km/h, keeping the current Russian gauge and state-owned, and a new railway from Kaunas–Joniškis with 160 km/h, also at Russian gauge and state-owned. Because of the break of gauge at Kaunas, passengers would have to change trains there. For freight, a reloading facility or a bogie exchange station would be placed near Kaunas. This option was already completed as Rail Baltica I.
- Option two was a new railway with 200 km/h (120 mph) speed standard gauge (with 3 kV DC, the same voltage as in Poland) from Kaunas via Joniškis to Riga, as above, but then continuing in a shorter, straighter line via Pärnu to Tallinn. This option was chosen as the preferred route. The existing Lelle-Pärnu line in Estonia was permanently closed for passenger operations on 9 December 2018, as it required a €17 million refurbishment.
During the planning of the location of the project route in the Baltic States a conceptual agreement among the three Baltic States was reached that it should be as straight as possible as it provides the highest benefits at the lowest cost. The shorter and more direct the route is, the faster traffic it is possible to ensure, which economically has the highest advantage compared to its alternatives. This was confirmed by the AECOM study in 2013, analysing the four possible options of the location of the route in all three Baltic countries.
In 2017, the Parliaments of the three Baltic States ratified the intergovernmental Agreement on Rail Baltica stating "route" shall be from Tallinn though Pärnu–Riga–Panevezys–Kaunas to the Lithuanian/Polish state border with a connection of Vilnius–Kaunas as a part of the railway and defining the design speed 240 km/h for passenger travel. Now the Rail Baltica Global Project route is aligned from Tallinn till Kaunas with already built European gauge railway line section from Kaunas-Lithuanian/Polish border being subject to the results of the Upgrade Feasibility Study. Nevertheless, in April 2018 the Ministries of the three Baltic States approved the Design Guidelines of Rail Baltica, which states that the maximum design speed will be 249 km/h and maximum operational speed should be 234 km/h.
Rail Baltica IEdit
The name Rail Baltica is also sometimes used to mean the first phase of European gauge railway construction from the Poland-Lithuania border to Kaunas in Lithuania. It was inaugurated on 16 October 2015. The project, which built European standard-gauge one track alongside the existing Russian gauge tracks, cost €380m. The 119 km line accommodates diesel trains, with passenger trains running at up to 120 km/h and freight trains at up to 80 km/h. Higher speeds will depend on future electrification and a new signal system. In June 2016, Lithuanian Railways and Polregio started weekend passenger train service between Kaunas and Białystok.
In Estonia and Latvia, implementation of the Rail Baltica I project contained upgrade of the existing rail lines in the region. The 66 kilometres (41 mi) long Russian gauge line from Tartu to Valga (on the Latvian border) in Estonia was renovated between 2008 and 2010. The work was done by the Finnish VR Group for a cost of €40M.
The Šiauliai-to-Latvian border rail section (using broad gauge) will be newly built and to be finished in 2015 with an estimated cost of €270M. In Latvia, the existing railway upgrade between Riga and Valka at the cost of €97M was finished 2016. The EU will contribute about 25% of the cost for the three parts.
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 and will ensure the high-speed passenger travel and freight movement. Rail Baltica creates the possibility to shift the major freight transport in the regions from road to rail, which for the time being is transported towards Russia and then north by heavy trucks. In the case of Poland the trucks follow the local roads and directly cross the villages of Podlaskie Voivodeship.
According to the Cost-Benefit Study by Ernst&Young made in (2017), the benefits from Rail Baltica are calculated as:
- 7.1 billion euros saved in climate change and noise reduction
- relevant track traffic flow shift to railways – 30-40%
- 13,000 jobs created during the construction phase
- 5.3 billion euros saved for passenger and freight travel
- 5.3 million passenger hours saved
- 400 human lives saved in 29 years
All in total, measurable socio-economic benefits are estimated at 16.2 billion euros. The assessed GDP multiplier effect the Rail Baltica Global Project would create is an additional 2 billion euros. It is also claimed there will be "substantial unmeasurable benefits".
Criticism started after a feasibility study by AECOM was published, with the government of Lithuania keen to include a link to Vilnius. The mayor of Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, called for the city to be included in the route.
In 2017, two Estonian environmental groups claimed that the lack of public participation on the decision made by Baltic governments and building of a new line, rather than upgrading the existing network, is in conflict with the Aarhus Convention.
In 2016 and 2017, three open letters were composed in Estonia which called on the Estonian government and parliament to stop the project in its planned form. The main arguments in these letters were that the new track as a greenfield project will cause too much damage to nature and does not essentially improve travel possibilities.
On 8 June 2017, Priit Humal, Karli Lambot, Illimar Paul and Raul Vibo, experts on logistics and engineering, published a critical analysis of the Rail Baltica Cost-Benefit Analysis made by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) where they claimed that €4.1 billion of the stated socio-economic benefits are faulty and therefore the Rail Baltica project is neither feasible nor eligible for EU financing. They asked for comments from RB RAIL AS, the Rail Baltica coordinator, who provided answers four months later. The authors of the first study claimed that the issues raised in their previous analysis were not adequately addressed in the official replies and that therefore Rail Baltica will be detrimental to society.
The authors of the critical analysis have been accused of having a conflict of interest, as one of the authors owns a logistics company. It has been claimed that Rail Baltic would decrease the volume of business for road transport businesses. The author has denied these claims.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rail Baltica.|
- Official website – Global Project
- European Commission: Progress report on Rail Baltica compiled by the European coordinator of the project Pavel Telička, July 2007 – July 2008
- Information about Rail Baltica on the TEN-T website of Greens/EFA in the European Parliament
- European Commission: Feasibility study on Rail Baltica railways – Main conclusions and recommendations January 2007
- European Commission: Feasibility study on Rail Baltica railways – Annexes January 2007
- Priority Project 27 
- Baltic countries' agreement on Rail Baltica project to be signed at the beginning of summer