The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has dropped for the time being the plan to build a bypass railway in Tallinn at an estimated cost of €112 million, finding that there is no need for it, daily Postimees writes.
"We will do it in such a way that it will be technically possible to build a ring railway along the Rail Baltica track corridor at some point, should something cardinally change in our transit," Deputy Secretary General for Transport Ahti Kuningas told Postimees. "There is currently no need for a ring railway."
According to an estimate by the state-owned railway infrastructure company Estonian Railways (EVR), the proposed ring railway would cost €112 million to build. For this amount of money, major improvements could be made on Estonia's roads, such as by building the smaller Tallinn Ring Road or paving 1,100km of gravel roads.
The tentative design for the ring railway proposes that 12.5km of the 27km track terminating at the Port of Paldiski runs parallel to Rail Baltica just south of Lake Ülemiste.
This means that in designing Rail Baltica, a wider track corridor, viaducts, rail stops and all other infrastructure need to be taken into consideration, given that the route would have to accommodate two sets of tracks — one for the European gauge to be used by Rail Baltica and the other for the so-called Russian gauge currently in use in Estonia. If Rail Baltica doesn't take a second set of tracks into consideration, it is unlikely that the ring railway will end up build, the paper observed.
With low volumes, construction would not pay off
According to its proponents, a ring railway would resolve the problem posed by the fact that currently, all cargo en route to the Port of Paldiski from Russia is transported through Tallinn city centre to Kopli Freight Station in Põhja-Tallinn.
Currently, an average of one freight train per 24 hours travels along the Tallinn-Paldiski section of rail, accounting for just 4% of the total volume of all rail transport in Estonia.
Talk of the need for a ring railway dates back over ten years, however, when cargo volumes were almost triple their current amounts.
"This begs the question regarding the necessity of the investment," Mr Kuningas said. "EVR's existing tracks need investments to the tune of €500 million in the coming years."
He did add, however, that Rail Baltica plans do take a second set of tracks into account.
EVR CEO Erik Laidvee, whose company submitted an inquiry to the ministry last autumn regarding the ring railway, said that according to their understanding, no conclusive decision exists regarding the ring railway project, and additional surveys are wanted.
"We hope things will become clearer in January, but the important thing is that it hasn't yet been decided that there will be no ring railway under any circumstances," he said.
Mr Laidvee did admit, however, that at current cargo volumes, the construction of the ring railway definitely would not pay off.
"If the ring railway is taken into consideration in Rail Baltica plans, this means that no structures necessary for the functioning of Rail Baltica would be designed in the locations indicated in the preliminary design by Estonian Railways," he said.
According to the CEO, what needs to be clarified now is how exactly the prospect of a ring railway is being taken into account, and what additional surveys would be needed.
"This would allow Rail Baltica to move forward with the designing of their railway without delay, and give us additional time for the necessary additional surveys and search for financing opportunities," Mr Laidvee added.
Editor: Aili Vahtla