Construction of the Estonian portion of the planned Rail Baltica high-speed line will not meet its original planned deadline of 2026, and is likely to be completed at the end of this decade. Finance, planning and engineering issues are the main factors in the delay.
Tõnu Grünberg, board chair at Rail Baltic Estonia, the firm overseeing the Estonian section of a line which will traverse all three Baltic States, from north to south, told daily Postimees that: "Until now, 2026 had been our own goal, but it has not been set in stone at European level.
"Unfortunately, it is now clear that this schedule is no longer possible. On the one hand, it cannot be carried out technically and structurally, on the other hand, the financing of the entire project is not covered," Grünberg added.
The end of the 2020s is the final deadline, however, if the EU-wide TENT-T transport network deadline of a decade later is to be met.
Planning issues in Pärnu County, which borders Latvia to the south, have contributed to the hold up after the original plan was annulled by the Supreme Court in Estonia. A replacement plan and route is scheduled for year-end, it is reported.
Grünberg said that: "We have found very good alternatives to the previously proposed route. However, they also have their disadvantages. Now we have to consider what is the best solution for nature. In terms of time, it does not matter anymore whether we stay on the old route corridor or make changes to it. Public consultations, coordination and the rest of the whole involvement process must still be carried out again, in accordance with the law. If the new plan is approved by the end of next year, it will be fine."
Cost and engineering factors also play their part, he said.
"Rising construction prices are affecting us, especially the construction of wildlife crossings and viaducts. We also know that we must not overheat the construction market. We have assessed the project schedules with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Transport Administration and reviewed that there be no over-the-top construction volumes in 2024 and 2025. The Estonian construction sector would not be able to manage it and prices would go up a lot. This, too, is why it is actually good that 2026 will not be the deadline."
The 2018 preliminary project estimated a cost of €1.68 million in Estonia, but this is likely to be revised upwards, with additional funding likely to be requested from the budgetary period starting in 2028, Grünberg added.
Construction of the route is underway in Estonia, as well as in Latvia and Lithuania, meaning that the hold-up does not spell an end to the project, Grünberg said, noting that the three countries had followed differing approaches to the project.
He said: "For example, the Latvians have not yet started building any road bridges," compared with Estonia, where the bulk of the work has so far been concerned the procurement and construction of wildlife crossings and road bridges,
Meanwhile in Latvia a passenger terminal is being built in Riga, while in Lithuania, the necessary land, from the Latvian border to the city of Kaunas, has been acquired.
Major engineering sites in Estonian number six, with one of these, the Saustinõmme road viaduct, already completed.
In total, however, more than a hundred railway bridges, wildlife crossings, railway and road viaducts have been planned, most of which will be built in parallel with the main route.
Construction of the northernmost Rail Baltica terminal in Ülemiste, on the outskirts of Tallinn, is nearly finished, however, Grünberg said. At the same time, it was important that major facilities be completed in concert rather than at different times, he said.
Grünberg added that: "We are currently building these objects separately in order to save time and spread costs. Most of the viaducts involved in the project will still be completed together with the construction of the main route, just as in road construction."
However, of the initial, €60-million procurement volume, contracts have been concluded to a value of less than €20 million, Grünberg said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte