Rail Baltica

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Rail Baltica
Map of Rail Baltica: The solid line represents the direct option involving a new privately-owned standard gauge railway; the dashed line is a longer route and state-owned Russian gauge which would also connect Tartu and Vilnius. (Country and city names are in Latvian)
Type Privately-owned Higher-speed railway
System Rail Baltica
Locale Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Termini Mockai
Tallinn International Airport (passenger), Parnu (freight)
Services Mockai - Kaunas - Riga - Parnu - Tallinn
Owner Arriva
Number of tracks Double track
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge (primary)
1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) broad gauge
Loading gauge SE-C
Electrification 3 kV DC overhead
Operating speed Up to 120 mph (200 km/h)

Rail Baltica is one of the priority projects of the European Union: Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T). The project is supposed to link Finland, the Baltic States and Poland and also improve the connection between Central and Northern Europe. It envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn (Estonia), to Warsaw (Poland), going via Riga (Latvia) and Kaunas (Lithuania). It will bypass the Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia) and Hrodna (Belarus), which have historically hosted two Poland–Lithuania rail routes. Construction of the railway is planned to start in 2020. The TallinnRigaKaunas standard-gauge route is planned to be finished in 2025, and the connection to Warsaw in 2030.

The section from Helsinki to Tallinn will be operated by existing commercial ferries. In the future a proposed Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel could provide a rail link between the two cities.[1] The length of the railway between Tallinn and Warsaw will be at least 950 kilometres (590 mi).

Route and standard[edit]

There were two options to build the Rail Baltica. Both options included an upgrade of the existing railway (with standard gauge) to 160 km/h (99 mph) for the stretch that runs from Warsaw via Białystok and Ełk to Trakiszki,[2] followed by a new railway with standard gauge Trakiszki–Kaunas.

For the remainder of the route to Tallinn two different options were considered:

  • Option one was to upgrade the existing railway from Joniškis via Riga and Tartu to Tallinn to 160 km/h, keeping the current Russian gauge and state-owned, and a new railway from Kaunas–Joniškis with 160 km/h, also at Russian gauge and state-owned. Because of the break of gauge at Kaunas, passengers would have to change trains there. For freight, a reloading facility or a bogie exchange station would be placed near Kaunas.
  • Option two was a new railway with 200 km/h (120 mph) speed and privately owned standard gauge (with 3kV DC, same voltage as in Poland) from Kaunas via Joniškis to Riga, as above, but then continuing in a shorter, straighter line via Pärnu to Tallinn.[2]

In 2011 it was decided to use standard gauge, and privately owned, but with a slightly modified route: from Kaunas to Riga the new railway will run via Panevėžys and Bauska.[3] A feasibility study for this option estimated the line will cost about €3.68 billion in total.[4]

Although there is an EU high-speed directive saying that new TEN-T lines should have a speed of 250 km/h (160 mph), with only upgraded lines allowed at a lower speed of 200 km/h, it is hard to finance the project as it is, and so if the project succeeds, 200 km/h is most likely for the newly constructed line, and 160 km/h for the upgraded section which is a higher-speed rail.[5] As there are many level crossings and 160 km/h normally is the maximum train speed over level crossings, there would be a large cost increase for upgrading to 200 km/h.

Track gauge[edit]

Feasibility studies for 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge ("European gauge") have been conducted.[6][7] Some areas will be built as dual gauge (1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) Russian gauge and 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) Standard gauge).


Arriva, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway, will operate using European gauge (1435mm) tracks in the Baltic States.[citation needed]

Financing and the time horizon[edit]

The project will be financed by the member states and by the European Union TEN-T budget of (124 million), and the Structural and Cohesion Funds provided to the EU New Member States.[8] The total cost was expected to be around €1.5 billion for option one, and around €2.4 billion for option two.[2]

In Autumn 2015, the budget was estimated to be €4 billion.[9]

By late Summer 2016, the total budget was estimated to be about €5 billion; the Estonian part of which was rated at €1.31 billion, and the rail section covering the distance from Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border was rated to be €3.6 billion. That budget also covers the additional construction of the European-gauge Kaunas–Vilnius track section.[9]


The 66 kilometres (41 mi) line from Tartu to Valga (on the Latvian border) in Estonia was the first part to be renovated. This was done by the Finnish VR Group between 2008 and 2010. The cost was €40M.[10][11]

In Lithuania, the two rail sections covering the Polish border-to-Mockai[:lv] distance (using standard gauge) and the Mockai–MarijampolėKaunas distance (using dual gauge) were inaugurated on 16 October 2015, costing €380m.[12] The 119 km Polish border–Kaunas section was called Rail Baltica I, and in 2015 it was adopted for diesel trains running at 120 km/h. Higher speeds depend on electrification and a new signal system.

The Šiauliai-to-Latvian border rail section (using broad gauge) will be newly-built and to be finished in 2015 with an estimated cost of €270M. In Latvia, the existing railway will be upgraded at the cost of €97M, and planned to be finished 2015. The EU will contribute about 25% of the cost for the three parts. The EU also finances a technical study for a new standard gauge railway between Estonia and Poland.[10][needs update]

The building of the rail line proper is planned to start in 2020. The TallinnRigaKaunas route is planned to be finished in 2025, and the connection with Warsaw in 2030.


When talking about the benefits of the project, it is pointed out that the Baltic railway infrastructure will be connected to the European railway corridor. In case of a successful project implementation, in 16 years of time, high quality rail connection between the Baltic States and the biggest economic, administrative and culture centers of Western Europe will be ensured. Opportunities for a new cargo way (Nordic – Southern) as well as the development of logistics services are expected. The tourism, regions and new working places will be developed and the national safety of Latvia will be increased. It has been estimated that at least 1.5 billion euros will flow into the economy of Latvia.

Rail Baltica creates the possibility to shift the major freight transport in the regions from road to rail, which for the time being is transported towards Russia and then north by heavy trucks. In the case of Poland the trucks follow the local roads and directly cross the villages of Podlaskie Voivodeship.[citation needed]

In case of a successful project implementation, a high quality rail connection between the Baltic States and the biggest economic, administrative and culture centers of Western Europe will be ensured. Opportunities for a new cargo way (Nordic – Southern) as well as the development of logistics services are expected.[citation needed]

Constraints to be resolved[edit]

One of the project's aspects is the conversion of the Baltic States' rail network to Standard Gauge (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)), thus improving rail integration with Europe at the expense of integration with the Russian system (1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in)).[13]

If the north–south railways are converted to standard gauge, the west–east railways are still not likely to be converted, since they are used for freight and passenger trains to Russia. There is even a consideration to build a new west–east high-speed railway Riga–Moscow which will use Russian gauge.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Helsinki-Tallinn Rail Tunnel Link?". YLE News. October 31, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional Policy (January 2007). "Feasibility study on Rail Baltica railways" (PDF). 
  3. ^ "Rail Baltica's fate to become clearer by the end of May" (PDF). March 2011. 
  4. ^ "Project Rail Baltica would cost EUR 3.68 bln". June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Rail Baltica Final Report Volume I" (PDF). AECOM Limited. May 2011. p. 248. Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "Studies for a European gauge line for Rail Baltica (Estonian section)". Innovation and Networks Executive Agency. 2007. Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  7. ^ "Studies for a European gauge line (Latvian studies)". Innovation and Networks Executive Agency. 2007. Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  8. ^ "Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T): selection of projects for the TEN-T multi-annual programme 2007–2013 and the annual TEN-T programme 2007" (Press release). European Union. November 21, 2007. 
  9. ^ a b Õepa, Aivar (2016-08-25). "Rail Balticu maksumus on kasvanud ootamatult viie miljardi euroni" [The cost of Rail Baltic unexpectedly grew to five billion euros]. Delfi Ärileht (in Estonian). Ekspress Meedia AS. Retrieved 2016-08-25. 
  10. ^ a b "Mid-Term Review" (PDF, 65 MB). Detailed report from 2010. 2010. p. 161-172 (PDF). 
  11. ^ VR Group (April 28, 2008). "VR-Track wins superstructure renovation contract for Tartu-Valga track" (Press release). Finland. 
  12. ^ "First section of Rail Baltica inaugurated". Railway Gazette International. 16 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Lietuvos Respublikos Susisiekimo Ministerija". [dead link]
  14. ^ Augulis: high-speed railroad project between Riga and Moscow must be self-sufficient

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