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Study: Climate change may affect Rail Baltica construction, operation

Rail Baltic Estonia's map indicating travel times between potential stops on the railway.
Rail Baltic Estonia's map indicating travel times between potential stops on the railway. Source: Rail Baltic Estonia

Studies have suggested that climate change issues might impact the construction of Rail Baltica, a pan-Baltic rail link aimed to link Tallinn with the Polish border, Baltic News Service reports.

The study was commissioned by RB Rail, which is coordinating the construction, and carried out by external companies. It assessed the impact of climate change on Rail Baltica construction as well as its operations and maintenance during the life cycle of the line, noting that extremes of climate would have their effects, though no concrete changes to the project were reported.

The study mostly aimed to prepare for climate change over the whole Rail Baltica life cycle to insure the line's sustainability.

Based on 30-year climate and weather data analysis, plus national level climate projections, the study found that the Baltic region may gradually experience milder winters with less snow, though increased wet snow, freezing rain, glazed frost and ice formation events, which could affect the rail line.

Summers might see more heatwaves with maximum temperatures at or over 40C, the study found (NB reported recorded record highs in Estonia are in the mid-30s-ed.)

Heavier rainfalls and thunderstorms resulting from higher air temperatures and potentially higher wind speeds are another prediction the study made, while noting that long-term storm and wind speed predictions are difficult to make.

All of these extremes could affect both the construction and efficient running of the line.

Commissioned by RB Rail AS, the study was conducted by environmental and planning consultancy Hendrikson & Ko in cooperation with SIA Vides Eksperti and DGE Baltic Soil and Environment.

"Climate change is becoming an important element in designing and constructing infrastructure objects aimed at serving the public needs for decades to come," said Martin Ruul of Hendrikson & Ko.

"We are delighted that Rail Baltica developers take a long-term view in considering potential weather and climate risks and mitigation measures as early as the project's design phase."

This kind of approach is quite unique in the Baltics and therefore it is important to note climate risks management should be integrated into the general Rail Baltica risk management, monitoring and control systems rather than as a stand-alone subject," he added.

Nonetheless, the new infrastructure itself is set to contribute towards climate change mitigation by helping to reduce CO2 emissions, air pollution and noise levels, RB Rail said.

The study identified the most vulnerable parts of the proposed rail infrastructure and suggested mitigation measures to be integrated in both design and construction phases.

Rail Baltica is a double track, European-standard 1,435 mm gauge electrified railway for passenger and freight transport, to run from Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border, with an overall length of 870 kilometers.

Once up and running, with the proposed Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel, it could even link Helsinki by rail with the western continental European countries, via Poland (see map above).

RB Rail AS shareholders include Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian rail companies.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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