The head of the country's rail infrastructure operator Estonian Railways has sent out signals as to the future direction of development, saying the St. Petersburg line should be prioritized along with converting segments of single railway to two-way track.
The executive, Ahti Asmann, said on the other hand that restoring the rail link to Haapsalu, a resort city 100 kilometers from Tallinn with a long railroad history and a population base of potential commuters, is a matter of political will.
"The railway is a mass transport channel. There are so few people in Estonia that we can't view passenger transport only on whether it is profitable. And no matter how you run the calculations, it just won't be profitable," Asmann said on ERR radio.
In other words, Asmann said, the railway company would honor any financial commitment from the state to restore and maintain the Haapsalu line, but it would not dip into freight infrastructure usage fees to finance construction.
Such user fees are the main source of its revenue. Last year, Estonian Railways earned 55 million euros from freight operators and just 2.7 million euros from passenger lines.
But Russia is pursuing energetic development of its own ports in the Black Sea and the Far East, with little additional containerized transit expected to take place through Baltic ports. Hence the focus on increasing numbers of eastern tourists. "If we streamline border procedures on the Tallinn-St. Petersburg line, the first step will have been taken. We won't need to reinvent the wheel but just compete with bus routes."
Besides border procedures, safety and communication infrastructure needs to be renovated to allow trains to reach a speed of 160 kph.
This is one of the most expensive single line items. For instance, on the Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski line west of the city, the equipment is 50 years old and an overhaul would mean a 35 million euro, three year project, said Asmann.