Economy minister to concretize Operail operating guidelines

Operail train at a crossing.
Operail train at a crossing. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) will hand state-owned rail carrier Operail new guidelines as to the owner's expectations in the coming days. The minister promises to have a plan for the company's future in January.

Finnish public broadcaster Yle reported on Tuesday that Estonia's state rail carrier Operail plans to start hauling nickel from Russia to Finland. The company said that nickel is not among sanctioned goods and that it plans to sell its Finnish subsidiary in the near future anyway.

Still, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) had criticism for Operail at the government sitting on Thursday.

"While the business is legal, we could ask whether it is morally acceptable for a company owned by Estonian taxpayers. My unequivocal position would be that it's not," Reinsalu said.

The foreign minister added that official owner's instructions from this spring require Operail to conclude business transactions with Russia.

The company said via a press release that it cannot make economically unfeasible decisions and has not directly erred against these guidelines.

The instructions document reads, "the ethical dimension of doing business with Russian and Belarusian enterprises needs to be weighed and business relationships that directly service trade with Russia and Belarus abandoned (gradually if necessary) and replaced with new opportunities."

Economy Minister Riina Sikkut said that the government and Operail have different interpretations of these instructions.

"The position of this government remains the same after ministerial changes. The government's guideline is clear, and a state-owned company should not move Russian goods. I can put this in writing if need be," she said.

Sikkut promised to phrase new guidelines for Operail in the coming days. Operail's carriage of goods volumes have been halved in the last year, with a further reduction of 65-70 percent looming after Russian trade is dropped.

"Meanwhile, maintenance costs are mounting and the trade volume we will have left will render railroad transport unfeasible," Operail CEO Raul Toomsalu said.

At the same time, Estonia has made promises to the contrary.

"Looking at the strategic need to meet the transport sector emissions target in the green transition, moving passengers and goods from roads to the railroad is the only way we can do it. Road carriage fees are not in the same ballpark as those on the railroad today. While I believe we will have to revisit infrastructure usage fee principles, this should not be based on Operail financials or those of other individual companies."

Sikkut promised to have a plan for the future of Operal, which has lost most of its business, by January.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Marcus Turovski

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