Rail Baltica enters next phase, dispossession of land owners begins

A render of part of the planned Rail Baltic route.
A render of part of the planned Rail Baltic route. Source: (ERR)

Estonia hasn't fallen behind in its preparations for the Rail Baltica project's next phase, CEO of Rail Baltic Estonia, Riia Sillave, confirmed to ERR on Tuesday. This year the marking-out of the railway's route as well as first negotiations with land owners are on the agenda.

Rail Baltica's next phase started on Tuesday with the chief executives of the project's subdivisions in the three Baltic states introducing their schedules for 2018. Preliminary analyses are complete, and up next is the marking-out of the new route.

Rail Baltic Estonia's CEO, Riia Sillave, told ERR's Merilin Pärli on Tuesday that in 2018 they will also work on the technical planning for two railway stations, namely the ones in Tallinn's Ülemiste quarter close to the airport, and the station planned for Pärnu in the southwest.

In addition the Land Board has entered into negotiations with private land owners along the planned route of the new railway. Rail Baltic Estonia's previous CEO, Indrek Orav, said in 2017 that they expect more than 90 percent of the privately owned land to change hands without greater conflict.

The Estonian section of the new railway leads through 650 plots either owned by local councils or private individuals. "We've already talked to 251 of them. The Land Board is planning the first purchases or land swaps for this year. Our goal is to have zero forced dispossessions," Sillave said.

Negotiations so far show that some two thirds of the owners prefer a swap to a sale. About a fifth has indicated the intent to sell.

To back up the efforts of Rail Baltica, the Riigikogu currently has a bill in the works that will make it possible to add a financial incentive to the transactions and pay a price 20 percent higher than a plot's current market value.

Despite recent reports in Latvia and Lithuania that due to rising labor costs the other Baltic sections will end up costing more than planned, this isn't a point the Estonian company wants to worry about at this point.

"We can't know at this point in time what the construction market will be like when work on Rail Baltica actually starts," Sillave said. "At the moment we see some increased activity in some markets, but we don't know what will happen in three or four years."

After the final decision last year to build the new railway, the beginning of construction is now scheduled for the year 2020. According to the project's international parent company, RB Rail, the definitive route of Rail Baltica will be fixed this year.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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