Experts: Tartu-Tallinn track should be straightened before electrification

A train at a level crossing.
A train at a level crossing. Source: ERR

Experts have recommended the railway track between Tallinn and Tartu be straightened before electrification. The work will cost an estimated €50 million but will make it possible to travel between the cities in 1 hour and 32 minutes.

In four years time, track operator Eesti Raudtee hopes to complete the electrification on the Tallinn-Tartu route. This timeline cannot be changed too much either as another state-owned company, Elron, is already selecting new electric trains. Eesti Raudtee is currently negotiating with a Finnish and a Spanish company. The winner of the procurement must prepare a preliminary design for electrification.

Indrek Gailan, head of the Transport Development and Investment Department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said there is still time to decide whether the railway line should be made straighter.

"In order not to lock down the speed developments of the Tallinn-Tartu section in future, it would probably be most sensible to do so together with electrification, because later on it would be more expensive to rebuild than now," said Gailan.

An analysis completed at the end of September reached the same conclusion.

In the analysis prepared by EstConsult Rail OÜ, the engineers said if the route is not straightened before its electrification, the possibilities to increase the speed will be limited for the next 50 years.

"Considering the trends in Europe for faster railways, this decision would not be expedient and would set significant restrictions for the development of domestic rail transport in Estonia in the future," the experts wrote.

Head of the Eesti Raudtee Construction Service Riho Vyatkin said the analysis was commissioned in order to investigate which railway sections need to be straightened so that the train can run up to 160 km / h.

"The study looked at the existing curves which cannot be driven at faster than 120 km/h today," Vyatkin explained. "The study found that there are 28 such curves with a total length of 40 kilometers. And the cost of upgrading them was €47 million."

With most of the curves, the work would not be very difficult. The tracks could be moved a few meters and even then they would fit onto the existing track. 

Only in three places would be more difficult as land would need to be acquired by the state. For example, there are several sharp bends between Tabivere and Kärkna stations and land would need to be purchased there, Vyatkin said.

"Today, this section is built between swamps and with s-curves. The total length of the route is a maximum of eight kilometers," Vyatkin said.

However, it two cases it would be so difficult to rebuild the railway sections that they have been left untouched by the analysis. One example is Aegviidu where the rails turn just before reaching the station

"This means that practically the whole station, with switches, waiting platforms and crossings, even perhaps buildings, should have been, figuratively speaking, relocated," Vyatkin said. "And the time saved from that would be some 10-15 seconds, and the gain does not outweigh the cost."

If the track is not straightened, it will be possible to travel between Tallinn and Tartu in 1 hour 47 even after electrification. With the work, it will be 15 minutes faster. Currently, the fastest a train can travel between the cities is 1 hour 52 minutes.

It is also necessary to upgrade the traffic management system, which Eesti Raudtee estimates to be an additional investment of €155 million.

Vyatkin would add fences, two-level intersections and wider platforms for railway stops to the list. "Today's platforms are built at a speed of 120 km / h. The standard for higher speed platforms provides for an increase in the danger area.

At the same time, the engineers who prepared the analysis for Eesti Raudtee note that not all of today's requirements may need to be met. An example is a railway station with at least two, but sometimes four or more, stations at each station. 

The current rules say that if a train travels faster than 140 km / h, all these switches should be replaced by slightly more expensive and complicated ones. However, Sweden has more turns at speeds above 250 km / h, while Germany has a limit of 200 km / h. Therefore, engineers are proposing to relax the current safety requirements. Eesti Raudtee has also thought about this.

"We have also launched this process in house to review the current rules on the use of technology and to propose possible changes," Vyatkin said.

Most of the work that allows faster trains can be done even if the railway is already electrified. First of all, it needs to be decide whether or not to build the railway straighter.

Indrek Gailan also acknowledged that the decision-making time is coming. "At the same time, we still have many pending Structural Funds for the period 2021-2027," Gailan noted. "The timeframe for deciding on these funds is the end of this year, the beginning of next year, when investments and spending should start."


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Editor: Helen Wright

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