Rail Baltica

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Rail Baltica
Map of Rail Baltica: The solid line represents the direct option involving a new privately-owned standard gauge railway; the dashed line is a longer route and state-owned Russian gauge which would also connect Tartu and Vilnius. (Country and city names are in Latvian)
Type Corporate-owned higher-speed railway
System Rail Baltica
Locale Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Termini Mockai
Tallinn International Airport (passenger), Muuga (freight)
Services Mockai – Kaunas – Riga – Pärnu – Tallinn
Number of tracks Double track
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge (primary)
1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) broad gauge
Loading gauge SE-C
Electrification 25 kV AC overhead[1]
Operating speed Up to 240 km/h (150 mph)

Rail Baltica (in Estonia also known as Rail Baltic)[2][3] is a project to link Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with a European standard gauge rail line, providing passenger and freight service between the countries and improving rail connections between Central and Northern Europe. It envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn (Estonia), to Warsaw (Poland), via Riga (Latvia) and Kaunas (Lithuania). It will bypass the Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia) and Hrodna (Belarus), which have historically hosted two Poland–Lithuania rail routes. Rail Baltica is one of the priority projects of the European Union: Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T).

The first phase, known as Rail Baltica I, extends from the Poland-Lithuania border to Kaunas, it was inaugurated on October 16, 2015. Construction of Rail Baltica II, the second phase connecting Kaunas, Riga, and Tallinn, is planned to start construction in 2019,[4] the Tallinn–Riga–Kaunas standard-gauge route is planned to be finished in 2026, and the connection to Warsaw in 2030.

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.[5] The length of the railway between Tallinn and Warsaw will be at least 950 kilometres (590 mi).


The first phase, known as Rail Baltica I, extends from the Poland-Lithuania border to Kaunas, it was inaugurated on October 16, 2015. The project, which built standard-gauge tracks 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 Przewozy Regionalne started weekend passenger train service between Kaunas and Białystok.[6][7]

The second phase, known as Rail Baltica II, will be developed by RB Rail, a special-purpose company established in October 2014 and owned equally by the three Baltic States. Rail Baltica II will consist of a double-track standard-gauge railway between Tallinn, Riga, and Kaunas, and will also electrify and upgrade the portion from Kaunas to the Polish border to allow higher speeds. Rail Baltica will be fully compatible with European Union standards, including the European Rail Traffic Management System. The project is planned to begin construction in 2019, and be completed in 2026.[4][8]


The project will be financed by the member states and by the European Union TEN-T budget of (124 million), and the Structural and Cohesion Funds provided to the EU New Member States.[9] The total cost was expected to be around €1.5 billion for option one, and around €2.4 billion for option two.[10]

In Autumn 2015, the budget was estimated to be €4 billion.[11]

By late Summer 2016, the total budget was estimated to be about €5 billion; the Estonian part of which was rated at €1.31 billion, and the rail section covering the distance from Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border was rated to be €3.6 billion. That budget also covers the additional construction of the European-gauge Kaunas–Vilnius track section.[11]

In November 2016, EU agreed to fund €180m, 85% of the cost of the Lithuanian part of the phase II.[12]

In April 2017, the overall cost of the project, including the construction of the Kaunas-Vilnius section, was estimated at about €5.8 billion.[13] According to a Ernst & Young (EY) cost-benefit analysis, the construction work is not financially viable without public co-financing, with expenses not covered by net profit totalling €3.96 billion. However, the project's profitability lies in its wider socio-economic benefits, which are estimated by EY at around €16.22 billion.[14]

In October 2017, the last of the three Baltic parliaments ratified the Rail Baltica agreement involving the standard gauge railway from the Polish border to Tallinn.[15]

Route and standard[edit]

In 2011, the three Baltic States agreed on a route connecting Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevėžys, and Kaunas.[16] A feasibility study for this option estimated the line will cost about €3.68 billion in total.[17]

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,[10] 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.
  • Option two was a new railway with 200 km/h (120 mph) speed standard gauge (with 3kV DC, 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.[10] This option was chosen as the preferred route.

Although there is an EU high-speed directive saying that new TEN-T lines should have a speed of 250 km/h (160 mph), with only upgraded lines allowed at a lower speed of 200 km/h, it is hard to finance the project as it is, and so if the project succeeds, 200 km/h is most likely for the newly constructed line, and 160 km/h for the upgraded section which is a higher-speed rail.[18] As there are many level crossings and 160 km/h normally is the maximum train speed over level crossings, there would be a large cost increase for upgrading to 200 km/h.

Rail Baltica I[edit]

Implementation of the Rail Baltica I project contained upgrade of the existing rail lines in the region [19], the 66 kilometres (41 mi) 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.[20][21]

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.[needs update]


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.[citation needed] 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 euro will flow into the economy of Latvia.

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.[citation needed]


Graph showing the claimed 3 billion euro mistake in Rail Baltica Cost-Benefit Analysis

Criticism started after a feasibility study by AECOM was published, with the government of Lithuania keen to include a link to Vilnius,[22] the mayor of Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, called for the city to be included in the route.[23][24]

In 2017 several 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,[25] the Estonian Association for the Club of Rome advised the government to abandon the Rail Baltica route.[26] Problems in the environmental assessment programme have also been claimed.[27]

In 2016 and 2017, three open letters [28] [29] [30] were composed in Estonia by public persons including scientists, academics, and architects who 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 the travelling possibilities.

On 8 June 2017, Priit Humal, Karli Lambot, Illimar Paul and Raul Vibo, experts on logistics and engineering, published a critical analysis [31] of the Rail Baltica Cost-Benefit Analysis made by EY (formerly Ernst & Young) where they claimed that €4.1 million of the stated socio-economic benefits are faulty and therefore the Rail Baltica project is neither feasible nor eligible for the EU financing. They asked the comments of RB Rail AS, the Rail Baltica coordinator, who provided answers only four months later.[32]

On 18 September 2017, the meeting between Estonian pro-transparency NGO Avalikult Rail Balticust (MTÜ ARB, Openly About Rail Baltic) and representatives of joint venture RB Rail AS in Riga was cancelled as the latter did not allow the meeting to be recorded.[33]

On 16 January 2018, Priit Humal, Karli Lambot, Illimar Paul and Raul Vibo published a 73-page study [34] that includes replies from EY, RB Rail AS and the European Commission,[35] the authors of the study claim that issues raised in their previous analysis were not adequately addressed in the official replies, and that therefore Rail Baltica will be detrimental for society.

On 10 April 2018, an open letter of 424 leading intellectuals of Estonia was published, suggesting to stop the whole plan in its current form.[36][37]

Constraints to be resolved[edit]

One of the project's aspects is the conversion of the Baltic States' rail network to Standard Gauge (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)), thus improving rail integration with Europe at the expense of integration with the Russian system (1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in)).[38]

If the north–south railways are converted to standard gauge, the west–east railways are still not likely to be converted, since they are used for freight and passenger trains to Russia. There is even a consideration to build a new west–east high-speed railway Riga–Moscow which will use Russian gauge.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Technical Parameters". RB Rail AS. Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  2. ^ http://railbaltic.info/et/
  3. ^ ERR News. RB Rail opts to use incorrect form of Rail Baltic name in Estonia. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b "First section of Rail Baltica inaugurated". Railway Gazette. 16 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "Helsinki-Tallinn Rail Tunnel Link?". YLE News. 31 October 2008. 
  6. ^ "Lithuanian, Polish railways to launch Kaunas-Bialystok passenger route in June". The Baltic Course. 31 May 2016. 
  7. ^ "Rail Baltica: Bialystok – Kaunas route set to open for rail passenger transport in June". Think Railways. 10 May 2016. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. 
  8. ^ "Design guidelines competition launched for Rail Baltica project". Global Rail News. 12 January 2017. 
  9. ^ "Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T): selection of projects for the TEN-T multi-annual programme 2007–2013 and the annual TEN-T programme 2007" (Press release). European Union. 21 November 2007. 
  10. ^ a b c European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional Policy (January 2007). "Feasibility study on Rail Baltica railways" (PDF). 
  11. ^ a b Õepa, Aivar (25 August 2016). "Rail Balticu maksumus on kasvanud ootamatult viie miljardi euroni" [The cost of Rail Baltic unexpectedly grew to five billion euros]. Delfi Ärileht (in Estonian). Ekspress Meedia AS. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  12. ^ EU funding for Lithuanian section of Rail Baltica
  13. ^ Rail Baltic to cost €5.8 billion
  14. ^ Analysis: Rail Baltic project to have €3.96 billion gap
  15. ^ Rail Baltica agreement ratified by all three parliaments
  16. ^ "Rail Baltica's fate to become clearer by the end of May" (PDF). March 2011. 
  17. ^ "Project Rail Baltica would cost EUR 3.68 bln". June 2011. 
  18. ^ "Rail Baltica Final Report Volume I" (PDF). AECOM Limited. May 2011. p. 248. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  19. ^ https://ec.europa.eu/inea/ten-t/ten-t-projects/projects-by-priority-project/priority-project-27
  20. ^ "Mid-Term Review" (PDF, 65 MB). Detailed report from 2010. 2010. pp. 161–172 (PDF). 
  21. ^ VR Group (28 April 2008). "VR-Track wins superstructure renovation contract for Tartu-Valga track" (Press release). Finland. [permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Barrow, Keith (11 March 2014). "Governments edge towards consensus on Rail Baltica". International Rail Journal. 
  23. ^ "Current Rail Baltic route through Latvia publicly approved". ERR. 30 November 2016. 
  24. ^ "Tartu-Valga Rail Baltic Route Should Be Considered, Says Tartu Mayor". ERR. 17 January 2014. 
  25. ^ "Estonian ex-PM: Ratification of Rail Baltic accord will result in litigation". Baltic Times. 15 June 2017. 
  26. ^ "Eesti Rooma Klubi soovitab Rail Balticust loobuda". ERR (in Estonian). 15 November 2013. 
  27. ^ Arumäe, Liisu (7 November 2013). "Expert says Rail Baltica endangers Tallinn drinking water". Postimees. 
  28. ^ Open letter of 101 public persons requesting Estonian government to stop Rail Baltic
  29. ^ Open letter of 152 public persons requesting Estonian government to stop Rail Baltic
  30. ^ Open letter of 222 public persons requesting Estonian government to stop Rail Baltic
  31. ^ Humal, Lambot, Paul, Vibo. Major mistakes in Rail Baltic CBA made by EY
  32. ^ RB Rail AS Comments on MTÜ ARB’s questions
  33. ^ RB Rail joint venture cancels meeting with opposing Estonian NGO
  34. ^ Humal, Lambot, Paul, Vibo. Major mistakes in Rail Baltica Cost-Benefit Analysis made by Ernst & Young Baltic
  35. ^ http://www.railbaltica.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/5609474-HR-to-Mr-Humal.pdf
  36. ^ Cancel Rail Baltic in its current form.
  37. ^ English version of the public letter of the 400.
  38. ^ "Lietuvos Respublikos Susisiekimo Ministerija". Archived from the original on 2012-02-08. 
  39. ^ Augulis: high-speed railroad project between Riga and Moscow must be self-sufficient

External links[edit]