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Repairs to Tartu rail signalling system to take months, cost millions

Tartu train station after last month's signal box fire
Tartu train station after last month's signal box fire Source: Madis Hindre/ERR

A week after a cable fire in Tartu that brought all rail service on the route to a standstill last Wednesday, railway signalling at Tartu Railway Station continues to operate half automatically, half manually. Full repairs, including the ordering of replacement relays, are now expected to take months to complete and cost millions of euros.

Estonian Railways (EVR) CEO Erik Laidvee told ERR's radio news that an expert fire analysis is still underway, but the fire was likely caused by an electrical short in the station's signal box. "A cable apparently caught fire and it spread from there," he added.

In the days immediately following the fire, criticism was widespread regarding a lack of information as well as over the fact that both passengers and Elron, the passenger rail operator, alike were unaware of what had happened or what to do going forward.

Laidvee admitted that the company could have done a better job of keeping everyone informed, adding that partially to blame was the fact that the room where the fire broke out could only be accessed 24 hours later, before which it was unknown exactly what had happened.

By Monday night, the station operator was able to return to their post.

"We restored a sort of half-manual, half-automatic operation so that we can direct switches from the station building as well," the CEO explained. "We are getting more and more crossings back online as well. The last crossing should be working again by 31 May."

Restoring the entire system, however, will still take months. "We are implementing a temporary solution that will allow us to operate," Laidvee said. "In order to restore fully automated functionality, the plant will essentially have to produce all new relay cubicles as well as relays themselves for us. This will all really take time."

How much this will all end up costing is currently difficult to say, but according to the CEO, the total will be in the millions of euros. "These things are very expensive," he noted.

EVR's investment plans include replacing relays with microprocessor-based control systems, but considering the scope of Estonia's entire railway system, this process could take up to ten years to complete.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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