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Regional paper: Prime minister not ruling out Haapsalu rail extension

Source: Neeme Sihv

The Haapsalu rail extension could potentially go ahead even without European Union funding, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says. Kallas' government had previously struck off the project, at least so far as using European money went.

Regional daily Hiiu Leht reports (link in Estonian) that there are two objects which must be taken separately, one of which is the Turba-Risti rail extension (the missing link which would permit a continuous connection to Haapsalu, and with it Rohuküla, the ferry port serving the island of Hiiumaa).

"The second is the issue of funding," Kallas told the daily.

"The problem with the European Recovery Fund was that it has conditions that these projects must be ready by 2026.

"Since we did better than predicted in the Covid situation, the total amount of our recovery fund has decreased. At the beginning it was over a billion, while now it stands at €800 million. This means that we now have to choose what fits in with it and what doesn't, and which are those projects which in fact put all the projects submitted for refinancing, in jeopardy," the prime minister went on.

When asked about specific plans the government might have for the Rohuküla rail link, going forward, Kallas replied: "According to the plan in place, it will be followed, while funds will be found from other sources if the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications deems it important."

Then these funds will be found, but my as far as we know, the design will go ahead."

The Prime Minister added that she has been having plenty of meetings on the topic and understands the concerns that the "hiidlased" (Hiiumaa-dwellers) have regarding its being an island.

"Connections are vitally important on the island - we are talking about transport connections, energy and also the internet. More and more people are hearing that people really want to move to Hiiumaa and then they will work remotely. But nowadays for remote work you need a functioning internet and, of course, also connections to the mainland would be good. And electricity worries everyone in the same way, because all things consume it," said Kallas.

At the end of June, the government, at the time consisting solely of the Reform Party, opted to remove the rail extension from the EU recovery plan funding, along with several other projects, most notably the proposed Tallinn Hospital.

While the latter was a Center Party-backed project (the prime minister had dismissed Center from office earlier in the month), so too was the rail extension, re-linking the western town of Haapsalu to the network after a gap of more than 25 years.

It found backing from Isamaa and the Social Democrats, who entered office in July.

Two local authorities in the area had also threatened to take the state to court over the funding cut.

The EU Recovery Fund in question was drawn up in response to the Covid pandemic, since when the situation has changed.

The original Hiiu Leht piece (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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