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 Corporate-owned higher-speed railway
System Rail Baltica
Locale Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Termini Mockai
Tallinn International Airport (passenger), Muuga (freight)
Services Mockai – Kaunas – Riga – Pärnu – Tallinn
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 (also known as Rail Baltic[citation needed]) is a project to link Finland, the Baltic States and Poland with a standard gauge rail line, providing passenger and freight service between the countries and improving rail connections between Central and Northern Europe. It envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn (Estonia), to Warsaw (Poland), 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. Rail Baltica is one of the priority projects of the European Union: Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T).

The first phase, known as Rail Baltica I, extends from the Poland-Lithuania border to Kaunas. It was inaugurated on October 16, 2015. Construction of Rail Baltica II, the second phase connecting Kaunas, Riga, and Tallinn, is planned to start construction in 2019.[1] The Tallinn–Riga–Kaunas 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.[2] The length of the railway between Tallinn and Warsaw will be at least 950 kilometres (590 mi).


The first phase, known as Rail Baltica I, extends from the Poland-Lithuania border to Kaunas. It was inaugurated on October 16, 2015. The project, which built standard-gauge tracks alongside the existing Russian gauge tracks, cost €380m. The 119 km line accommodates diesel trains, with passenger trains running at up to 120 km/h and freight trains at up to 80 km/h. Higher speeds will depend on future electrification and a new signal system. In June 2016, Lithuanian Railways and Przewozy Regionalne started weekend passenger train service between Kaunas and Białystok.[3][4]

The second phase, known as Rail Baltica II, will be developed by RB Rail, a special-purpose company established in October 2014 and owned equally by the three Baltic States. Rail Baltica II will consist of a double-track standard-gauge railway between Tallinn, Riga, and Kaunas, and will also electrify and upgrade the portion from Kaunas to the Polish border to allow higher speeds. Rail Baltica will be fully compatible with European Union standards, including the European Rail Traffic Management System. The project is planned to begin construction in 2020, and be completed in 2025.[1][5]


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.[6] The total cost was expected to be around €1.5 billion for option one, and around €2.4 billion for option two.[7]

In Autumn 2015, the budget was estimated to be €4 billion.[8]

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.[8]

In November 2016, EU agreed to fund €180m, 85% of the cost of the Lithuanian part of the phase II.[9]

Route and standard[edit]

In 2011, the three Baltic States agreed on a route connecting Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevėžys, and Kaunas.[10] A feasibility study for this option estimated the line will cost about €3.68 billion in total.[11]

Initially two options were considered. 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,[7] 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 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.[7] This option was chosen as the preferred route.

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.[12] 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.

Other rail projects[edit]

In addition to the Rail Baltica project, other rail lines in the region are being upgraded. The 66 kilometres (41 mi) Russian gauge line from Tartu to Valga (on the Latvian border) in Estonia was renovated between 2008 and 2010. The work was done by the Finnish VR Group for a cost of €40M.[13][14]

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.[needs update]


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.[citation needed] 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 euro 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]

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)).[15]

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.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "First section of Rail Baltica inaugurated". Railway Gazette. 16 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Helsinki-Tallinn Rail Tunnel Link?". YLE News. 31 October 2008. 
  3. ^ "Lithuanian, Polish railways to launch Kaunas-Bialystok passenger route in June". The Baltic Course. 31 May 2016. 
  4. ^ "Rail Baltica: Bialystok – Kaunas route set to open for rail passenger transport in June". Think Railways. 10 May 2016. 
  5. ^ "Design guidelines competition launched for Rail Baltica project". Global Rail News. 12 January 2017. 
  6. ^ "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. 21 November 2007. 
  7. ^ a b c European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional Policy (January 2007). "Feasibility study on Rail Baltica railways" (PDF). 
  8. ^ a b Õepa, Aivar (25 August 2016). "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 25 August 2016. 
  9. ^ EU funding for Lithuanian section of Rail Baltica
  10. ^ "Rail Baltica's fate to become clearer by the end of May" (PDF). March 2011. 
  11. ^ "Project Rail Baltica would cost EUR 3.68 bln". June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Rail Baltica Final Report Volume I" (PDF). AECOM Limited. May 2011. p. 248. Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
  13. ^ "Mid-Term Review" (PDF, 65 MB). Detailed report from 2010. 2010. pp. 161–172 (PDF). 
  14. ^ VR Group (28 April 2008). "VR-Track wins superstructure renovation contract for Tartu-Valga track" (Press release). Finland. 
  15. ^ "Lietuvos Respublikos Susisiekimo Ministerija". Archived from the original on 2012-02-08. 
  16. ^ Augulis: high-speed railroad project between Riga and Moscow must be self-sufficient

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