Reform Party promises to finish Rohuküla railroad

A section of rail track in Estonia (photo is illustrative).
A section of rail track in Estonia (photo is illustrative). Source: ERR

The Reform Party has complemented its election program with a promise to finish building the Rohuküla railroad to Haapsalu, which Reform removed from among EU Recovery Fund projects. Center Party whip Jaanus Karilaid described the move as hypocritical.

The government on June 30 of last year decided to remove the Rohuküla railroad from the list of EU Recovery Plan-funded projects. The decision was made after Prime Minister Kaja Kallas evicted the Center Party from the coalition and was left with a minority government. The railroad has long been a Center Party priority.

"We will electrify railroads, renovate tracks and procure new trains to achieve better speeds and more departures on vital lines (Tallinn-Tartu-Koidula, Tartu-Valga, Tapa-Narva, Tallinn-Rohuküla, Tartu-Riia). We deem it important to make Rail Baltica accessible to everyone in Estonia through train links," the ruling party's election program now reads.

Reform Riigikogu whip Mart Võrklaev, who participated in putting together the party's election program, said that Reform considers development of passenger rail transport to be a priority. "It is fast, safe, convenient, environmentally friendly and sports a regional policy dimension. For example, the Rohuküla railroad would have considerable regional policy significance for Lääne and Hiiu counties, which is why we have supported the project in the past and continue to do so," Võrklaev said.

Removing the project from the Recovery Fund was necessitated by the latter's reduced volume and price advance affecting other projects therein, Võrklaev said.

Jaanus Karilaid, who has long pursued the project, told ERR that Reform pulled funding after an investment decision was made in the case of the railroad.

"The tracks would go as far as Risti on the edge of Lääne County today otherwise. Work will commence post haste if Center makes the government after March [elections]. /.../ Work and activities are more important than programs. Four-lane highways are also included in the Reform Party's program, while we can all see how far that has gotten," Karilaid commented.

"They promise the moon but get done very little. They were ruling alone in June and ended up scrapping funding. Hypocritical," Karilaid said.

Mart Võrklaev emphasized the Reform Party's position according to which Russian track gauge railroads are a clear security threat following Russia's Ukraine campaign as it would make logistics easier for the aggressor.

"This has seen the European Commission propose replacing Russian track gauge railroads with European track gauge. The Reform Party is convinced that Estonia should not lay another meter of Russian gauge tracks and deems it necessary to switch the entire Estonian rail network to the European track gauge, similarly to Rail Baltica. This needs to be taken into account also when moving forward with the Rohuküla project," the Reform MP said.

Karilaid suggested Võrklaev stop spreading "war hysteria."

"We can change the track gauge easily enough. But we need the financing decision. We need to start the diggers and move forward with the construction. They should put this matter on the government's agenda and give Estonian Railways the money. This would make it possible to finish the first stage as far as Risti from where we could switch to the European track gauge. If they do that, I will believe it is not just a hypocritical slogan on the eve of elections. And they need to show where the Recovery Fund money ends up," Karilaid said.

However, Karilaid added that Reform and Center do not rule one another out as potential coalition partners [after the elections]. "So, hope remains," Karilaid remarked.

In addition to the Haapsalu railroad project, the government on June 30 also removed the new Tallinn Hospital and a multipurpose medevac helicopter project from among Recovery Plan targets.

Reform's current coalition partners Isamaa and the Social Democrats have said that they support moving forward with the Rohuküla railroad.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski

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