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Rail Baltic requires looking beyond today’s context, says EU official

Whether or not the EU taxpayer would carry up to 80 percent of the cost of Rail Baltic depended on individual governments’ negotiations leading up to the union’s next budgetary period, Henrik Hololei, the European Commission’s director-general for mobility and transport, told ERR.

Hololei said that actually, Rail Baltic was a model example of a European project. “Rail Baltic is one of the projects that correspond perfectly to all the principles we’ve been trying to put into practice in the EU’s infrastructure and transport policy over the last years,” he explained.

If there would be less European Union funding available for such projects in the future, it would be concentrated on just the ones that met these criteria of all-European importance, he added.

The current opposition to the project in Estonia was part of a necessary dialogue, Hololei said, though it came a little late. “There are people who are genuinely worried, there are those who are against absolutely everything, those who don’t want any changes, and there are those who think that this might not be the right solution,” Hololei said. “The state and the politicians who support it have the clear obligation to explain the project and say why it is a good thing.”

How problems related to the railway project’s route would be solved was in every member state’s individual responsibility, Hololei added. The commission had created the conditions necessary. “This project isn’t an obligation, it’s a chance. The Baltic states have seen this chance and agreed among themselves and promised that they’ll plan it and put it into practice. After that, they asked for funding. Our interest once we’ve allocated the money is to see that there is a railway, and that it doesn’t end up hanging in the air,” Hololei said.

Hololei: Poland will not be a problem

Asked about local worries over recent months that Rail Baltic did not enjoy sufficient priority with the Polish planners and government, Hololei said that though they might not stress it at every chance, Poland would play its part in the project.

“488 million has been allocated for Poland to improve the railway connection between Warsaw and Białystok. There really are track sections where the speed is relatively low. This investment has been allocated,” Hololei said.

He also added that another round of applications for European funding was about to end, in which Poland had applied for money to develop the railway sections between Białystok and Ełk, as well as from Ełk to the Lithuanian border. Poland was contributing its part to making a fast train connection from the Lithuanian border to Warsaw, Hololei stressed.

What matters is the future

According to Hololei, it is important to look into the future for the purpose of the planned railway. Today’s situation and volumes couldn’t serve as a useful example of what was to come.

“We can’t look at this from today’s point of view. With large infrastructure projects, we have to be able to look ahead to the freight flows 10 to 15 years from now. To say that there are no goods today, and where are they going to come from tomorrow, of course there’s nothing there yet, because neither are the railway and the option,” Hololei said.

On the contrary: “Back when the ships started moving between Tallinn and Helsinki, did anyone guess that we’d have ten million passengers a year? If there was a train that took them from Tallinn to Riga in two hours, there would be plenty more people who would go to Riga more often, and people in Riga who could come to Tallinn or elsewhere as well.”

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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