Baltic Rail: a mega priority project for Europe

Rail-Baltica-introduccion
Rail-Baltica-introduccion

The project is not only considered as a boost to mobility in Europe, but it will be the means of establishing a new economic corridor in north-eastern Europe.

Northern Europe will boast a modern railway corridor that will contribute to significant change in terms of mobility. The project is entitledRail Baltica” offering an infrastructure that aims to integrate the states of this area into the European network. To this end, a continuous international link has been designed that will depart from Tallinn (Estonia) and will run through Parnu and Riga; where it will feature a stop at the airport; then the journey will continue towards Panevezys until arriving in Kaunas (Lithuania). Also, from this city there will be a connection to Vilnius, near the border with Poland. In turn, this country is building its Rail Baltica segment from Warsaw through Bialystock and Elk to connect with the Lithuanian border. From the technical point of view, it will be an electrified and high-speed connection devised for both freight and passenger traffic. For its implementation, a working schedule has been divided into three stages: planning, design and construction. In the first one, the studies associated with the possible routes have already been carried out. However, there are still less relevant studies pending that will be performed out in the later phases. It should also be noted that there are some parts of the project that overlap within the times marked out for design and construction.

After the global planning phase, the design phase (2016-2022) began, whose global guidelines were awarded, in July 2017, to Systra. The company will provide engineers with a standardised approach featuring guidelines that will ensure the interoperability of the new line and accelerate the two remaining periods to be implemented.

Progress

The year 2017 has marked a stage with several significant milestones. On the one hand, the international agreement on the project, which defines the general technical parameters, the route and the deadline for construction, was ratified by the Legislative Assembly of Estonia, the Riigikogu, in June 2017. In addition, a cost and benefit analysis of Rail Baltica was carried out, which revealed that the socio-economic benefits of the project standing at 16 billion euros. In 2017, an environmental impact assessment was also completed successfully, which highlights, amongst other issues, that the railway has a very positive impact on climate. Hence the importance of promoting new routes like this one.

In this last year, progress has also been made in some aspects, such as the awarding, in March, of the design of the reconstruction of Riga’s Central station to become a multimodal transport hub, as well as the provision of a bridge over the Daugava river. The tender was awarded to the Danish architecture firms PLH and the Cowi engineering. Construction is expected to be underway by 2022. At this moment, the study of the technological and spatial needs of the terminal in Muuga (Estonia) is in its final phase. In 2018, acquisitions will be announced for the design work of the passenger terminals at Ülemiste and Pärnu. Furthermore, early in 2018, the country itself will assume the chairmanship of the Supervisory Board of AS RB Rail, a joint venture located in Latvia.

 Construction will take place from 2019 to 2026. The Baltic route must be completed before 2025 while the link to Warsaw is scheduled for 2030. The route, of 870 kilometres, will be designed with a standard track gauge measuring 1435 mm, confirming all the requirements of the Interoperability Technical Specifications (ETI). Of the planned extension, 270 kilometres will cross Estonia, 265 kilometres Latvia and another 392 kms will pass through Lithuania. The line, electrified (2 x 25 kV AC), will be double track and equipped with ERTMS. Additionally, it will be prepared to reach a maximum speed of 240 km / h on the Tallinn route through Pärnu-Rīga-Panevėžys-Kaunas to the Polish border.

The corridor appears as one of the European Union’s priorities within the trans-European transport networks (TEN-T). This ambitious initiative has been deemed the “project of the century” for the three countries at the forefront and who finance it: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Also, for all of north-east Europe due to the numerous changes it will introduce from many points of view (connectivity, economy, environment, security, etc.). A completely new layout that makes a difference, since it is the only cross-border infrastructure that involves three European Union states. There may even be five if Poland and Finland decide to become stakeholders. The project’s implementation has the co-financing of the European Union providing up to 85% of the total costs. These funds are part of the Connect Europe Facility (CEF).

 Economic corridor

The project is not only considered as a boost to mobility in Europe, but it will be the means of establishing a new economic corridor in north-eastern Europe. A modern infrastructure key to boost wealth and competitiveness in the Baltic nations. Once under way, it will serve for the integration of the Baltic countries into the new regional and European supply chains. It is worthwhile noting that it is designed to be part of the TEN-T Corridor; specifically, it will be included in the main network of the North Sea-Baltic of the EU. This layout will connect the larger ports of the Netherlands and Germany with the three Baltic States; an additional union with Finland will also be enabled. The possibility of enabling a future link between Tallinn and Helsinki is also being studied.

Precisely, the possibility of extending the route to the north facilitates its future connection with the Arctic corridor. A key aspect if the prospects of having an alternative maritime route in the North Circle between Europe and Asia are taken into account. Likewise, as it will cross the Baltic-Adriatic Corridor in Warsaw, the line will give the opportunity to create new developments in the supply chain between the Baltic and Adriatic seas. In this way, synergies between North-South and West-East freight flows will be reinforced.

 Cost-benefit analysis

In the sphere of freight traffic, as stated in the Rail Baltica Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) prepared by Ernst & Young Baltic Ltd (EY), it is estimated that approximately 57% of all transactions will be established with Finland. Secondly, due to the trans-shipment between the rest of the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). And in addition, there will be an important flow of exports and imports between the three Baltic States. Overall, it is estimated that the freight potential would be 13 million tons in 2030, 13.5 million tons in 2035 and approximately 16 million in the year 2055.

 Environmentally Friendly Measures

 Rail Baltica will also entail major changes in terms of sustainability. On the one hand, by inducing a modal shift from road to rail, an economy of scale will be fostered, and there will be a significant reduction in the monetary resources allocated to mitigate climate change (approximately 3,000 million euros). The costs associated with noise pollution will also be reduced (approximately 843 million euros).

 A priority project with far-reaching potential

 The Rail Baltica project is one of those that receives most backing from the European Union. This was clearly visible in its presentation at the G7 Transport Ministers Meeting in the summer of 2017. After signing the third Grant Agreement with the Executive Agency for Innovation and Networks, this initiative will have attracted 683 million euros of funding from the Connect Europe Facility (CEF) for activities in the planning and design phases. It should be noted that in the last CEF invitation to bid, for the first time, the Commission has awarded additional funding beyond national allocations, which demonstrates the Commission’s firm commitment to the Rail Baltica project.

The great regional and European value reflects its importance and the power to provide benefits beyond the Baltic Sea region.