Estonia to discuss possible switch to European gauge with Latvia, Lithuania

Rail transit.
Rail transit. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonia is only just starting to form its position regarding the European Commission's recent proposal for all of Europe to transition to the European standard track gauge, and its decision will also depend on Latvia and Lithuania's positions, a Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications official said Wednesday.

The Baltic countries and Finland all currently use the so-called Russian railway gauge of 1520 millimeters (1524 in Finland). The railway gauge most widespread in Europe and which the European Commission is recommending is the European or standard gauge of 1435 millimeters.

In an appearance on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Wednesday, Indrek Gailan, director of the Transport Development and Investments Department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that behind the Commission's proposal is the goal of isolating Russia and Belarus from and adding Ukraine and Moldova to the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

Gailan said that discussions with the Commission will begin this fall, and that work is beginning on developing Estonia's position on the issue. Before that, however, Estonia needs to discuss it with neighboring Latvia and Lithuania as well.

"We should discuss this with Latvia and Lithuania, because it wouldn't be a good idea to develop a 1435 millimeter railway in Estonia alone," he said.

Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka announced Tuesday that the European Commission's proposal to switch to European gauge is "unreasonable" and that Finland should keep its current track width.

According to Gailan, the Commission's proposal won't affect railway projects that have already been planned in Estonia, such as the electrification and overhaul of the Tallinn-Tartu railway and construction of the Haapsalu railway.

"We're still going ahead with buying trains, as well as with electrification and increasing speeds," the ministry official said. "Regarding the Haapsalu railway, we'll definitely have to negotiate these drafting proposals with the Commission. The wording involves certain inconsistencies due to which we can't maintain right now whether we can continue with construction of the Haapsalu railway just like that or not."

He added that one can't speak of abandoning the Haapsalu railway project, as the Estonian government's decision was regarding pulling EU funding from Turba-Risti, a specific section thereof. "As far as I know, planning is still going ahead, and whether to build certain sections, move forward with this and how quickly will be moreso up to future governments," he said. "[The project] has not been suspended."

According to Gailan, transitioning to the European standard gauge would mean railway construction costs going up, as it involves higher quality control systems and a faster railway.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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