The long-discussed Tallinn ring railway project was again recently brought up when the Union of Harju County Municipalities called for a spatial plan to be drawn up. Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) thinks the project has legs and should be looked into.
The Union of Harju County Municipalities (HOL) is preparing to submit a proposal to the Ministry of Finance to initate spatial plan proceedings for the Tallinn ring railway project.
Aab, who has examined the draft, says he is in favor of the plan and it should be drawn up as fast as possible.
HOL has stated the railway could be used to solve many points of concern: take dangerous cargo out of the capital, create new developmental opportunities for enterprises in Paldiski and also new opportunities for passenger travel because Balti Jaam has reached its capacity.
Aab says the spatial plan would be a preparatory stage for the ring railway and it could be finished in around 10 years. "I am in favor of the approach that we should do the spatial plan. Considering that it could take up to four or five years, adding to that designs and construction, it is a decade-long process. I believe the state or private developers can find the resources by then and start construction."
The timeline designed by HOL would see the spatial plan initiated in the second quarter of 2021 with approval planned for 2024 at the latest. The design process would go from 2024 to 2027, when construction would also begin, lasting until 2030. Trains could start on the railway in the beginning of 2032.
According to Aab, the timeline drawn up by the union of local municipality governments is "a little optimistic".
He explained: "At the most modest predictions, and earlier experience, I can say there will always be disputes and arguments that could lengthen the process. I would personally predict the spatial plan process taking four to five years."
Funding has to be figured out
Last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MKM) told ERR that there is no need for a spatial plan, as there is not enough freight or money.
Aab said the perspective has changed in the year but the funding issue still stands. The source for funding has to be figured out before the planning process so construction could start right after the spatial plan is finished.
Aab explained: "Regarding the MKM, as far as I know, the reason the plan has not been initiated yet is that they did not see perspective for funding and it is not made more simple now. Since we are developing the national railway system - let's say the Narva, Viljandi or Tartu route, where the state needs to fund development - MKM most likely did not see perspective of the ring railway. Perhaps they could not say a specific time for when funding could be found."
He added that he has also spoken to Minister of Economic Affairs Taavi Aas (Center). "There is always the funding question. Aas has said that if municipality governments would contribute, maybe it would move the needle enough. We have to sit down and discuss who can do what to make this process go. In the near future, not in ten years." , Aab said.
Spatial plan would establish the exact track corridor
The goal of finishing a spatial plan is to establish the railway corridor, assess the possible effects of the railway on Tallinn and to reach an agreement on development.
One of the reasons why HOL has demanded for the spatial plan for a few years now is the potential corridor. If it is not set, municipalities of HOL have no basis to veto any other construction on the potential route. Currently, the initial route plans are in the Harju County plans, but it is a general location and there are two alternatives: One of them going from North of Lake Ülemiste, staying on Tallinn territory, the other plan is to go South of the lake.
Aab agreed that the establishment of a spatial plan would give municipalities the certainty of where the route would go and what can be developed elsewhere.
He said: "If the exact location is set via the spatial plan, real estate could be freed up, not having to be held under the potential route. And if it turns out that there are problems on the corridor, perhaps the land needs to be dealt with - acquiring other plots, but that should not be much of a problem, as the majority of the route is already reserved."
HOL is convinced that the route should go South of Lake Ülemiste, taking dangerous cargo out of Tallinn. That alternative is however much more expensive than taking it through Tallinn. The estimated total cost of a route South of Ülemiste would exceed €100 million.
Aab said there are pros and cons to both options. "The spatial plan process would consist of alternatives being assessed, with many things considered: costs, socio-economic effects, effects on settlement and environment. The first stage of planning is to choose the exact route and then conduct further analyses," the minister said.
Aab said surrounding municipalities are also interested, along with the city of Paldiski. Passenger trains could also potentially use the railway. He added that it would be benficial for cargo transport as well.
The public administration minister said: "Paldiski is developing and growing in terms of its port and enterprises. It has been stated that only a couple of trains run through the city each week and it is true, the current railway is slow and goes directly through the city. If the new route would be more comfortable and faster, I believe freight capacity would grow and the ports of Paldiski and Muuga would be connected, allowing for improved logistics.
"I see it in perspective. Whether it comes or not - guess I have to listen to both sides."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste