Prime Minister Jüri Ratas considers it possible that the completion of the Rail Baltic high-speed railroad, which is scheduled for 2026, may be delayed by several years.
"If Rail Baltic is completed by the end of the 2020s, then that will be very well," Ratas said on Vikerraadio broadcast Stuudios on peaminister on Tuesday. "We are all making efforts to ensure that it is completed as promised by 2026, but if it takes longer, then there's nothing that can be done."
The prime minister was responding to program cohost Arp Müller, who brought up the fact that according to an audit by the National Audit Office, Rail Baltic-related project activity is a year and a half behind the schedule laid out by the funding agreement — and the most behind are the launch of activities for which Estonia is responsible.
Müller added that in the span of 14 months, six executives have left Rail Baltic, 62 employees published a concerned statement, and the National Audit Office audit also noted that if the project is delayed, that could mean running the risk that the European Commission may seek to have some of the money allocated to the project refunded.
"It is clear that the tempo thus far has not met our expectations," Ratas said in his interview with Müller and cohost Mirko Ojakivi. "[Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure] Taavi Aas (Centre) is very well-informed about these matters, and if he says that it's still possible to get things done by the deadline, then very good. But I'll say this once again — such a big project, through several countries, and with such a high price tag — if you want an exact date and time for when you can come conduct interviews there, then it is too early to say right now."
Ratas also brought up concerns in Rail Baltic leadership.
"Rail Baltic includes several bodies," he explained. "One is the one whose headquarters are located in Riga — RB Rail, whose subsidiaries are located in Estonia and Lithuania. In addition, each country has its own Rail Baltic company. This is the sticking point in the management scheme. It's very important that we find a unified management scheme through the completion [of the project] as soon as possible."
Another question, the prime minister continued, was who would begin managing Rail Baltic upon the completion of the international railroad?
"Lithuania has a different position from Latvia and Estonia on this matter," he noted. "I think Lithuania has even written into the law that if there is infrastructure, it has to be [managed by] a Lithuanian company. The question is, how do we operate Rail Baltic in such a way that passenger trains and freight trains can travel at high speeds?"
Ratas nonetheless confirmed that he would do everything he could to ensure that the project is completed.
"I am a real fan and supporter of Rail Baltic, and I will do everything to ensure that it is completed," he said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla