Tartu tram feasible with foreign support

A tram in Tallinn.
A tram in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

An analysis commissioned by the city of Tartu shows that a tram network would yield socioeconomic benefits but could only happen with three-quarters of the investment coming from foreign aid.

"We wanted to know whether the previously proposed line would make sense and would be socioeconomically feasible and sustainable. And yes, the summary suggests it would make economic sense," Tartu city engineer Mati Raamat told ERR when commenting on the results of the city's tram study.

Analysts first looked at Tartu mobility studies and recent bus statistics. This revealed that traffic is busiest heading from the city center to the Maarjamõisa medical campus and from there to the Lõunakeskus shopping mall. The other important heading leads from the center, over the river to the Annelinn district that is home to most of Tartu's apartment buildings. "And then there are the industrial districts of Ravila and Ropka that need a better public transport link. Connections to neighboring municipalities are also important," Raamat said.

The study looked at a total of seven potential lines. Once that was done, the authors marked out different course options or streets trams could go down. One criterion was feasibility, while another consideration was to try and have trams lure as many people as possible away from cars. The number of car kilometers saved was key in the socioeconomic analysis. The estimates were used to calculate how much noise and air pollution could be reduced and how many more people would leave their vehicles home. Raamat said the results surprised even the analysts themselves.

"They had little faith initially. They employed the same methodology used in Tallinn. And the results suggest there is great potential for Tartu," he said.

In other words – a tram is faster than a bus, pollutes less, is quieter and more comfortable and has greater potential for bringing people from their cars to public transport. In order for the tram to stay on schedule and have a greater effect, the tracks should be isolated from the rest of traffic. Trams need their own paths and first priority at traffic lights.

"The situation in Tartu is that we could retain car traffic for access only in certain places. We would have to block transit traffic for trams to be able to move unimpeded. Whether it would be every five, seven or ten minutes is yet to be decided, but it needs to work like clockwork," Raamat said.

The analysis looked at developing a tram network in two stages. First, a main line running from the Lõunakeskus mall to Annelinn through the city center to be completed by 2030. The entire tram network could be completed a decade on and cater to the rest of the city. The first stage would cost around €100 million, depots and trams included. The entire network is estimated to set the city back €300 million. Even though a tram has a longer service life than a bus, the city would still be deep in the red. For the project to make financial sense, someone, like the European Union, would have to cover 70-80 percent of the investment.

"The sausage has two ends. One the one hand, it is a major investment, while on the other, it would be a permanent thing. We could build infrastructure that caters to a lot of visitors around the tram lines. The line would be for decades," Raamat explained.

The completion of the analysis does not mean construction work is about to begin. The city is working on its general plan, and it is likely rail transport will have a place on the map. However, it could also be something other than a tram line, despite the recent analysis. Tartu is also considering above ground transport options.

"We have been offered such a solution. There is a sample at a base in Belarus, an aerial ropeway on pillars. We have met with the developers. We will be sure to consider the possibility and whether and how it could be done in Tartu in a sensible manner," Raamat promised.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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