Laying down Rail Baltic in Estonia could start within two years, says CEO

Rail Baltic artist render.
Rail Baltic artist render. Source: RB Rail

Rail Baltic, the high-speed rail project planned to connect the three Baltic capitals to Warsaw, will start to be laid down in Estonia by two years from now, according to Aivar Jaeski, head of RB Rail AS Estonia, and may function within Estonia even if the rest of the link in Latvia and beyond is not ready.

"This depends on how quickly we get the projects done and how quickly we get the construction work completed," Jaeski, whose company constitutes the Estonian arm of Rail Baltic as a whole, told Vikerraadio show Uudis+.

"In most cases, a maximum of 24 months [is required] for projects; we hope some of these will be completed sooner. We hope to be able to start laying down in 2022, or at the end of 2021," he added.

Jaeski said that the Estonian section of Rail Baltic is divided into three parts, with design work is already underway on the Tallinn-Rapla and Rapla-Tootsi sections. 

"Hopefully we will also get an agreement in the first week of February to design the final section from Pärnu to the Latvian border, so perhaps the design work for be carried out in Estonia this year," he added. 

In addition, contracts have been concluded for the design of the Ülemiste and Pärnu passenger terminals.

Work on a total of 17 road viaducts will also soon be started, in conjunction with the Road Administration (Maanteeamet). 

"At the end of last year, a cooperation agreement was reached with the Road Administration, which we hope will enable the start of the procurement process for these road viaducts. The first viaduct in Saustinõmme is already under construction," Jaeski said.

Regarding risks affecting the project completion, Jaeski also pointed out that since it is hard to estimate fuel or labor prices in the future, this could increase project costs.

"In addition, if time limits are shifted, this usually means an increase in budget," he admitted, adding that delays may arise from various lawsuits, retaliation and omissions

"However, there is also the opportunity to make the project cheaper by, for example, procuring across all three Baltic countries," Jaeski said. 

Since the rail organization is, in his opinion, somewhat conservative, Jaeski says he sees opportunities for innovation, new technological tools and digital solutions which could also bring the project in cheaper.

Tallinn-Pärnu section may become operational ahead of final completion

As to the question whether a rail link could be ready in Estonia ahead of in Latvia, Jaeski replied that the high-speed train between Tallinn and Pärnu could definitely be usable in itself.

"If the railway in Estonia is completed sooner [than in Latvia], we will definitely start use, because Rail Baltic also offers many opportunities within Estonia. The opportunity to get from Tallinn to Pärnu in 40 minutes or vice versa opens up new opportunities for Pärnu residents and Tallinners alike," he said, adding that Pärnu people could commute to Tallinn and/or people in Tallinn and northern Estonia could get down to Pärnu for a break. 

"My argument is that this will also stimulate the economy within Estonia, transforming the labor market," he said.

Rail Baltic's passenger transport plan foresees four services a day from Tallinn to Warsaw, plus four high-speed trains daily from Tallinn to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, making a total of eight trains a day. In addition, another night train is planned, to enable overnight travel to Warsaw.

"In addition, there are local trains which can start operating within Estonia - for example, four trains had been scheduled from Tallinn to Riga, and which would stop at local stations en route," Jaeski said, noting that there were 11 such stops within Estonia regardless of what happens in the other countries through which the line runs.

Passenger and freight projections

Jaesk also claimed that at a conservative estimate, around 5 million passengers could be using the service per year, by 2030 (compared with nine million by ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki, and three million via Tallinn Airport), and that 16 million tons of freight was also, if anything, understating things as an estimate, bearing in mind the existing Eesti Raudtee network already carries 12 million tons in freight.

The original Uudis+ piece is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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