A drop in passenger rail traffic was recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, when related restrictions were imposed throughout Estonia. In mid-March, however, the government began walking these restrictions back, and rail ridership began to see an increase again.
"It's possible that a few weeks ago there were still somewhat fewer [riders] than in 2019, but there have certainly been more already in recent weeks," said Elron sales and development manager Ronnie Kongo. "Of course this recovery has not been quite uniform everywhere — in some places it's been faster, and in other places it's been slower."
Regions where people can travel for free or at a discount on county bus lines, for example, are seeing fewer riders than in 2019 — including along the train's Keila and Paldiski routes.
"At the same time, longer routes such as Narva and Tartu are ones where there are more riders," Kongo added.
Elron's Tallinn-Tartu route has an annual ridership of more than one million. The passenger rail operator uses 38 trains to serve this route.
"Unfortunately, one of them was involved in a collision a few months ago and it will remain out of commission for an extended period," he noted. "So we are indeed currently in a situation where we're down one diesel train. This affects the exact longer routes that I mentioned before — Tartu, Narva, Viljandi — and especially during peak hours on Fridays and Sundays."
According to Kongo, Elron is aware that these trains are packed during peak hours, but added that unfortunately it isn't possible for them to put any more trains into service on these routes.
It isn't possible to quickly buy additional trains either, as the process involved is a lengthy one. Elron is, however, already in contract for new trains that are scheduled to enter service in Estonia by the end of 2024.
Editor: Aili Vahtla