Train travel to Berlin moves into distant future

Render of the plannned Assaku viaduct.
Render of the plannned Assaku viaduct. Source: Rail Baltic

The deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications Ahti Kuningas said that a rail link between Pärnu and Tallinn is feasible by 2030, but the completion of Rail Baltic to Latvia has been postponed until after 2030.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications announced that the Rail Baltic route would be completed by 2026. The hats and shoes purchased for the Berlin and Paris sidewalks, however, had to be stored in the basement, as the proposed timetable was acknowledged to be unrealistic, with the train not arriving in Europe before 2030.

However, speaking before the Riigikogu's Economic Affairs Committee in mid-September, Ahti Kuningas, the deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that the Ülemiste-Pärnu connection, the most advanced to date, could be completed by 2029 or 2030.

"The connections to Muuga and south of Pärnu are more complicated.
With Latvia, the timeframe is 2030 and beyond," Kuningas said.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut drew attention to the problems with the Spanish engineering and architecture company IDOM, which is not be able to complete the commissioned projects on time. "We cannot rule out the possibility that even the 2030 deadline will have to be postponed," Sikkut said.

The problems with the commissioned company were obvious at the start of the pandemic crisis. The corporation claimed at the time that Covid restrictions prevented the required specialists from entering Estonia. However, as the pandemic subsided, the problems persisted.

Anvar Salomets, the chair of the board of Rail Baltic Estonia, said that the design of eco-bridges and viaducts has gained speed this year. "However, regarding the Rail Baltica route - the railway itself - there has been little progress," Salomets added.

Proceeding with a preliminary building plan

Rail Baltica, a joint venture between the three Baltic States, has signed a contract with the Spanish and decisions on how to proceed will therefore be taken at the joint company's headquarters in Riga.

"We need to start simplifying these pieces of the pie in some way.
Whether this means ordering less work or none at all, these decisions are now being made," Salomets said.

"In Estonian law, you could indeed apply for a building permit with only a preliminary project, so you can order a basic or preliminary project design rather than a working full-fledged construction plan," he added.

This would imply that the more detailed design would be left to a different company. A separate question is what to do about a sluggish contractor.

"We continue to emphasize to them [the joint venture - ed.] that the supply chain must be shortened. Use of contractual instruments is required. Consequently, there are consequences for delays. And in this way restore the balance point back in the right direction for the contracting authority," Salomets said.

Uncertainty added by Pärnu County planning

However, Salomets said that the plans for the major railway line would soon be received and that land purchase can continue in some areas. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that certain parts will be completed by 2030.

"Some sections are less certain. For instance, the southern endpoint is dependent on the renewal of the regional plan, resulting in a larger time gap. So there is not a final time-frame on this passage," Salomets said.

He added, however, that the completion of the railroad by 2030 is not be a matter of technical capability only. There are financial concerns as well. Due to the delay, the project cannot be funded from the fiscal period ending in 2027 and no one knows what the 2028 European budget will be like.

"This horizon begins to emerge usually a year to a year and a half before the start of the fiscal period," Salomets said.

In terms of railway operation, Salomets said that starting the Pärnu-Tallinn railway line first is not a bad idea.

"Technically, it's even preferable," he explained. "No one starts with 900 kilometers at once. Taking one step at a time is not uncommon; it is even the standard method of long-distance railway construction."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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