The current Rail Baltic project is not financially sustainable, according to a big project audit by the European Union Court of Auditors (ECA). In addition, the estimated cost of the project has increased by 51 percent over the last eight years.
Oskar Henrics, a member of ECA, said that the possible volume of cargo and passenger transport endangers the financial sustainability of Rail Baltic.
Henrics said: "The presumed number of travelers (4.6 million travelers per year) is remarkably lower than our benchmark (9 million travelers per year) and of all our audited major railway infrastructures, the Baltics also have the least amount of people living in them."
It is noted in the audit that there is no north-south railroad connection between Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It is also noted that for it to work, railroad travel must be able to compete with road and sea transport, which is why efficient multimodal connections and measures have to be developed. One of the examples brought is the introduction of tolls.
According to the ECA, it is important the Baltic states reach agreement on an infrastructure management model, which should have been agreed to in the summer of 2019. No agreement has been reached.
€4.65 billion to €7 billion
The audit reveals the initial estimated cost of the project was €4.65 billion, but according to a new assessment, it has increased to €7 billion. The current official cost is €5.8 billion.
In addition, the audit notes the railroad will most likely be ready before 2030, but Latvia has already announced a four-year delay, which has been caused by a late start in development and bureaucratic delays related to expropriation.
A railroad track leading to Warsaw, from Tallinn via Riga and Kaunas, would connect a total of 8.3 million people to the service area. But even that is not enough, according to the ECA because it does not reach the benchmark of 9 million people.
Rail Baltic is not thought of as a high speed railroad by the European Commission and the developer but as a regular freight railroad. According to the ECA, a high speed railroad is one where trains travel at a speed of at least 250 km/h. The top speed of trains on Rail Baltic would not exceed 249 km/h.
However, ECA did assess the project as a high-speed rail investment because part of the project involves reconstructing a freight line on Polish territory and a high-speed rail there is considered one if its speed exceeds 200 km/h.
Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications: Audit's conclusions are made on false premises
Ahti Kuningas, Undersecretary of Transport of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said the audit is outdated and the actual freight transport and local stations are not considered.
According to Kuningas, Rail Baltic would help decrease the number of trucks on the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla route, which approximately 8,500 vehicles travel on daily.
Kuningas said: "Switching cargo and passenger transport from roads to railroads would decrease the number of vehicles on roads substantially, and also save lives."
He added a lot of conclusions in the audit also match ones made in an audit by the Baltic states.
Kuningas said: "Rail Baltic will become an economic corridor, which will be used to transport cargo and people from Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and many others. The railroad connects us to the heart of Europe and opens new doors for Baltic companies and people."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste