What is the Rail Baltic rail link?
Rail Baltic is a modern and fast electrified rail link with a standard European track gauge of 1,435 mm, running from Tallinn, through Riga, all the way to the Lithuanian-Polish border. The European railway network has already reached Poland and the connections there are also constantly being developed further. As a wider corridor, Rail Baltic covers Both Scandinavia and Russia from the north, and Poland and Western Europe on the other side. Rail Baltic is an investment in green transportation, but also an innovative thought and an energy-efficient way of traveling and transporting goods to Europe.
In Estonia, passenger terminals to Ülemiste in Tallinn and to Pärnu will also be built within the Rail Baltic framework, as well as new integrated terminals for goods, based on new technologies.
Why is a new railroad needed?
Estonia has historically been towards the east in railway links, for example, it is possible even now to take a train to St. Petersburg and Moscow. So far, however, there is no functioning rail connection between Estonia and the rest of Europe. Rail Baltic connects Estonia to Central and Western European countries and provides passengers and goods a new, fast and advanced additional opportunity to move from north to south and vice versa. The railway is also one of the most stable and safe means of travel.
How much does Rail Baltic cost?
Since Rail Baltic is a project built as a collaboration of three countries, both the cost and cost-benefits are generally assessed a whole, for the railway passing through the entire Baltic region. The cost of the railway, passing through the three Baltic States, is estimated to be an investment of 5 billion euros, 85% of which The European Union is willing to contribute, depending on the nature of the work. The construction cost of the route section within the Estonian borders, is currently estimated to 1,3 billion euros. For the obligatory contribution of the project, Estonia has planned ca. 250 million for the preparatory -and construction period.
How is the project financed?
CEF or Connecting Europe Facility is designed precisely for projects, whose task is to unite Europe. All the projects applying for funds from the European Commission CEF, are in competition with each other and those higher up in the competition will inevitably get more funding. Although no decisions have yet been made about the next funding period (2020+), however, it is precisely Rail Baltic (rather than ideas unformulated into a project or the RB project in a diluted form) that has a hope to achieve the maximum financial support from Europe. Rail Baltic is successful precisely because the three Member States have decided to jointly implement the project, and have reached a principal understanding in developing it.
In 2015, three Baltic states, along with their cooperative enterprise submitted their first four-way application with a total volume of 540 million euros, the biggest beneficiaries being Estonia and Latvia, with a funding of 213 and 291 million euros respectively. Lithuanias part in the first round of applications was smaller - 28 million euros.
In 2016, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the cooperative enterprise of the three countries submitted a second joint application with a total volume of 238 million euros, 202 million of which will be co-funded by the European Union. If the main focus of the first funding went to Estonia and Latvia, then this time the lion´s share of the financing was given to Lithuania.
CEF funds cannot be used for national projects, therefore roads or other rail sections cannot be planned as alternative uses of the same grant. These activities must be funded from other sources.
How were the potential route corridors selected?
The development of route options considered mainly the following aspects:
- Location with regards to residential zones (a buffer of at least 500 meters)
- Location with regards to Natura sites, protected areas and habitats of protected species
- Location with regards to cemeteries, heritage protection sites and objects
- The technical compatibility of the route
- Expense and the socioeconomic cost
On the basis of the evaluated criteria, the routes proposed had the smallest negative impact across all the evaluated effects.
When will the railway be completed and what is the construction schedule?
The technical solutions for the railway and terminals will be developed during 2016-2019, the construction phase will be reached by 2018-2019. To ensure the completion of the entire route in the same time period, the construction process will also be taking into account the respective progress of work in Latvia and Lithuania. Rail Baltic should be completed by the end of 2025.
Autumn 2016- January 2017- Public hearings for the Rail Baltic county plans
2017 - Launch of negotiations for acquiring land needed for the construction of the railway
End 2017 - The designing of the Estonian passenger terminals begins
Spring 2018 The Estonian section of the preliminary railway project, will be completed
2018 The technical designing of the railway begins in all countries
Autumn 2019 - Beginning of the railway construction
2025 The railway construction is finished and the test period begins
2026 Traffic on the new railway begins
What happens if the cooperation of the Baltic States is interrupted?
A joint venture called RB Rail AS has been created in order to ensure close cooperation between countries. It encompasses among other things, the preparation of funding requests, procurements for design, construction and more, and the preparation of a business plan. Thus, the cooperation is stipulated by establishing a joint venture. In addition, the project will be in close cooperation with the Finnish and Polish partners, the European Commission and the national authorities, which significantly reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.
Who will pay the maintenance costs if the railway will prove to not be self-sufficient?
At the occurrence of the first problems, all partners must make pragmatic choices, such as the operative adjustment of the business plan and a change in management decisions.
So far, predictions and analysis of the results of a scenario, where the new railway will not be able to recoup the costs of it´s own operation, are not likely to be considered. RB railway maintenance costs are planned to come entirely from usage fees. It would be fitting to draw a comparison with roads at this point roads have no financial returns, there are no usage fees and roads essentially work with a 100% loss. Road maintenance is paid by taxpayers through the state budget. The same applies, for example, to national defense, or the school network. In this sense, railways are certainly more sustainable, as the usage fees earned from their use, cover the associated costs.
As with other transport infrastructure projects, the expected revenues are mainly socio-economic. Both road and railway construction, expansion and modernization brings with it time savings for passengers and carriers of goods alike particularly due to the increase in speed and a decrease in the number of accidents due to better security (e.g.. the establishment of bridges, viaducts and ecoducts). Another important thing about railways, is the reduction of air pollution and the decline of climate impacts in comparison with other transport modes.
Can the project end up dragging out?
Hopefully not. It is a large-scale project, no construction projects of this scale, across three countries, have previously been undertaken. Since the aim is primarily to establish a safe rail connection, it should not be rushed, but we will make every effort to keep the work on schedule.
What is the purpose of Rail Baltic Estonia and the joint venture?
Rail Baltic Estonia OÜ is a holding company that represents the interests of Estonia in the joint venture RB Rail. Both Rail Baltic Estonia and RB Rail are tasked with creating a detailed business project the Rail Baltic project, compiling a unified marketing and communications strategy, including marketing the project to future clients, freight and passenger transport operators, and the preparation and subsequent realization of funding applications for the programme.
How many people and what sorts of goods will be traveling on the new railway?
More than 1300 road trains a day or about 10 million tons of goods a year, cross the Estonian-Latvian border in Ikla by road. Of course, not all of them are hauls, in which we can talk about the of the advantages of railway before freight cars. However, given that the RB is projected to move approximately 13 million tons of goods (e.g. through Poland to Lithuania or between Latvia and Lithuania), then merely by bringing over the current volumes, sufficient quantities of goods for the sustenance of RB, are achieved. Additionally on the topic of cargo volumes according to the 2015 count taken by the Road Administration of Estonia, 282 road trains cross the border through Valga, that´s 5 times less than the numbers in Ikla. This is again related to the fact that the shortest route moves more goods.
RB cargo volume forecasts say that the majority of goods (80%) are moving from road to rail, but about 20% come from sea transportation. Clearly certain goods or certain destinations and points of departure make it reasonable to keep transporting goods via roads (e.g.. Short spurts, where the loading on the train does not pay off) or by sea (eg. volume cargo), but the further development of railways as the most ecological transportation method will undoubtedly bring a considerable part of the goods on the railway.
Projections In the North Sea-Baltic Sea transportation corridor, which the RB is part of, the European Commission forecasts a 42% growth in road transport by 2030 in case nothing changes e.g. no RB is constructed. Additional road traffic volumes mean the need for road expansion. Wider roads have a similar effect as railways during the construction process, but are noticeably more ecologically destructive compared to electric railway or even diesel trains.
How fast does the train go and how quickly can one reach Pärnu, Riga or the Lithuanian-Polish border?
The passenger train travels at speeds up to 240 kilometers per hour. Rail Baltic will travel from Tallinn to Pärnu in less than an hour and from Tallinn to Riga in approximately two hours. When traveling from Tallinn to the border of Lithuania and Poland, one must prepare for a trip of about four hours.
Where will the stops be located in Estonia?
Within the framework of the preparatory Works, passenger stops will be erected in Tallinn, in the Ülemiste district and Pärnu. A spot for a stop exists also in Rapla. In addition to these stops, the local municipalities have foreseen spots where it is possible to add local stops. The building of these cannot, however, be covered by CEF, which means these decisions need to be made separate From the Rail Baltic project, in conjunction with the development of the overall transport system. While the development of the local stops can be done simultaneously with the construction of the remaining railway, if such a decision is made.
Freight trains are bound for the Muuga terminal. In the presence of a considerable volume of cargo, a freight station to Pärnu might be considered which requires a well functioning integration with existing production and storage complexes, cooperation with the port of Pärnu, with cargo shippers and operators.
What is the difference between the current railway and Rail Baltic?
The currently used czarist period track gauge is 1520/1524 mm. Rail Baltic will be built with the most common track gauge in Europe, namely 1435 mm. The current Estonian railways are built for a maximum speed of 140 km/h, in reality, the top speeds remain around 100-120 km/h. The top speeds of the Rail Baltic passenger trains are up to 240 km/h.
There are no same level crossings on the Rail Baltic route and the railway will be partially restricted by fences preventing people and animals being on or close to the railway, which will significantly increase the railways´ safety. In the case of Rail Baltic, a new and current train traffic management system will be implemented. This system will engage in a continuous automatic exchange of information between the control centre and train. Compared to the existing railway, Rail Baltic will produce considerably less noise and vibrations, since welded rails are used for the entire length and the train themselves are lighter.
Why is Tartu not considered as a route option for Rail Baltic?
The principle decision on the route course of Rail Baltic is made on the basis of previous expert works and registered with a nationwide plan Eesti 2030+". During the study, completed in 2011, four possible routes through the three Baltic States was considered. Two of them went through Tartu and two through Pärnu. The study revealed that building the railway through Pärnu spares more wildlife and human habitat and also means lower costs compared to the longer route through Tartu.The experts´analysis revealed that building on the existing road or next to it via Tartu, would prove to be significantly more expensive than the route through Pärnu. It would also mean a longer travel time, a costlier portage and higher ticket fares on passenger trains.
Why is the existing railway line not redesigned for Rail Baltic?
The existing railway is also receiving continuous investments to increase travel speed. However, in order to develop the existing railway to the same parameters, that the RB analysis´ and research found to be most reasonable, it is worth understanding that alterations to the existing route, including straightening bends, the addition and electrification of a second track and the implementation of a railway security system, would prove to be more costly. It should also be taken into account that in the case of the route passing through Tartu and Valga, it would not be possible to use the CEF grant on the same basis´ and in the same amount.
Both International high-speed and local railways have a role to play in the overall transportation network and need constant development so the formed network could guarantee the best and most reasonably priced means of transportation for travelling both near and far.
Specifically on the topic of the Tallinn-Pärnu railway, situated in the existing corridor, it´s usability for the RB project was analyzed within the work of AECOM. During the compilation of the preliminary project, the section between Röa and Pärnu was analyzed within the 2013 The possibility of using the existing rail corridor for the Rail Baltic route" research. The research found that using the existing corridor would be more costly, as it requires multiple reconstructions and the railway built would be longer than the route agreed upon in the county plans.
Building inside the existing corridor would not make it possible to avoid Natura 2000 areas and would require more restructuring (the location of existing buildings in proximity to the existing corridor and their demolition, more relocations of technical grids etc.)
How have the opinions of locals situated near the route, been taken into account?
Both people across Estonia as a whole and the local residents, whose lives are impacted by the proximity of the railway the most, are invited to take part in the discussions about the location of the new international railway route.
The fact that the new, fast and international railway route would be going through Pärnu on the direction of Riga, was agreed upon as a part of the nation-wide plan Eesti 2030+" after extensive researches inclusive of many societal groups. The Government of Estonia initiated the compilation of Eesti 2030+" on February 4th, 2010. It was compiled by the planning department of the Ministry of Interior and everyone were invited to take part in the planning discussions. The engagement process was extensive, discussions were held with civic associations, municipality authorities, experts and local residents.
The plan was introduced by the Government on August 30th 2012 and in it the principal route of Rail Baltic was in place. The more exact route was put into place within the frameworks of county plans. While compiling the county plans, 86 public debates, attended by over 400 people were held during 2013-2017.
Is it possible to build Rail Baltic on a viaduct above ground or to deepen it into a tunnel? What is the cost of these solutions?
Special solutions are technically possible, if there is sufficient justification and positive effect expected from special solution cannot be achieved with a lesser cost. By default and standard solutions, the railway will run on an embankment or in a recess. In the later more detailed stage of the design process, it is possible to consider special solutions as technical solutions, if need be (for example viaducts or tunnels in places where it is not required by an intersection with another road or another requirement), but the usefulness of the respective situations can only be justified in exceptional cases.
The lifting of a railway to a viaduct is technically considerably more complex and generally around 4-5 times more expensive. Although the viaduct would avoid some negative impacts on the environment (mainly the barrier effect), this will in turn lead to new negative effects (such as additional threats to maintenance work, the visual impact of it, the further spreading of noise pollution and the added difficulty of rescue works). The maintenance and overhaul of a railway lifted onto a viaduct is considerably more complex and costly compared to the standard solution.
Railways in tunnels are generally estimated to be 7-14 times more expensive than a conventional solution on the ground. It is also technically more complicated (for example groundwater problems must be excluded)
Are the existing roads and facilities of the local residents taken into account and if so, how?
From the very beginning of the outlining of the route options, the goal was to avoid build-up areas. It is however likely that the railway will lengthen the usual routes in some areas. To relieve the so called barrier-effect, caused by the railway, sufficient under- and overpasses and accessed to agricultural and forestry lands, will be built. The feedback on the actual need of the local residents, will be taken into account in the development of more specific solutions. Above all the approach taken prioritizes maintaining the accessibility of public services, cohesion of the community and safety. The constructor of the railway is responsible for the condition of the local roads and must ensure that their conditions post construction are the same as before the construction commenced.
How is the noise pollution, generated by the Rail Baltic route, alleviated?
Noise absorbers are planned in the beginning phases of infrastructure construction. Further technical solutions will be apparent in the design phase. Trees, among other things, are used as noise absorbents. Noise barriers are erected already in the construction phase, t lessen the noise generated by the construction works. The infrastructure of Rail Baltic is newer and of better quality and because of this, it creates significantly less noise and vibrations. However even a new infrastructure and a high quality noise barrier can not guarantee complete silence. Noise limit values, currently in effect in Estonia (Regulation No. 42 of the Minister of Social Affairs on 04/03/2002 "Noise limit values in residential and recreational areas, in residential and public buildings, and methods of noise measuring") are used to assess the noise generated by the planned activities, based on the protection of peoples health and minimizing upsets. Stricter measures of noise limits are used in rural areas that urban areas, where noise pollution already exists.
How are the vibrations caused by Rail Baltic alleviated?
Vibration is alleviated among other things with soil drainage, vibration mats and other technical solutions , that lessen the transmission of vibration from the rails into the ground. It must be taken into account that the Rail Baltic infrastructure is newer and of better quality than the current Estonian railway, resulting in less noise and vibrations. Vibration levels in residential areas must be guaranteed in accordance with the Minister of Social Affairs´ regulation no 78 Vibration limits for residential and public buildings and vibration measurement techniques." The area of influence for vibrations is generally 30-50 meters, in exceptional cases up to 100 meters. In the case of expected surplus to the normative values, additional measures to to prevent the spreading of vibrations are taken.
Is the train velocity restricted in proximity to residential buildings? How is safety guaranteed in residential areas?
The trains velocity is generally not restricted while passing residential dwellings. The railway is restricted by fences and any access to it has been made difficult to ensure safety. Train speed is restricted only in exceptional cases, such as maintenance etc. The disturbing effects of a quickly passing train are alleviated with various methods.
How will the regional rescue capability be insured in the case of cut off roads?
Rescue capabilities were taken into account already while comparing the route options, but in the case of the preferred route, a more accurate analysis will be done in collaboration with the Rescue Service Agency. In order to maintain or improve rescue capabilities, under- or overpasses and additional access routes will be added on the basis of needs.
Does the planning of the RB route take into account the impact on heritage dwellings, cultural heritage and historic villages?
The pre-selection of route options was based on the principal that the route will generally not pass through cultural heritage areas and sites , ensuring the protection of these areas and sites. The development of route options has been done in close cooperation with the National Heritage Board.
In the case of historical and cultural heritage values, studies of cultural objects and archeology were carried out, which take into account cultural monuments, heritage sites and the values defined in the comprehensive plans of provincial and local municipalities. Rail related facilities are resolved in a way that enables them to merge seamlessly into the existing environment. Another solution may be relocation, if the nature of the heritage site allows it.
What are the restrictions to the railway protection zone?
Under the law, land improvement systems, excavation works, mineral mining, logging or other works that alter the natural environment, production and storage of explosives and flammable substances are allowed within the protection zone, only with a prior written consent of the Technical Surveillance Office and the relevant infrastructure manager or the owner of possessor or the railway. The railway law does not set any additional restrictions. For example, there is no statutory regulation on the height of trees, by in the case of danger, deforestation might be required. There are also no restrictions on agricultural activities in the protective zone.
How are railway crossings with electrical lines, resolved?
The planning and construction of railways is done in close cooperation with the managers of electrical networks, who determines the necessary protection zones and technical solutions for the railway crossings. All the expenses caused to the power line holders are compensated within the Rail Baltic framework and no increase in line fees, is foreseen.
Several private lands are on the RB route. In what stage are the negotiations with landowners?
The route passes through about 650 parcels of land in private or municipal property. 70% of them are forest and agricultural lands. In eight cases it is not yet clear whether we can alleviate the losses related to the establishment of the railway or the infrastructure related to it, in a way that satisfies all parties. Essentially this will result in the purchasing of the lands with all the dwellings on it. The preliminary negotiations with landowners were initiated by the land office on December 2016, in Pärnu county, tangible transactions will be reached by the year 2017. The total cost of land acquisition will be clear after the last sum has been transferred to the land owner, each area of land is appraised separately by independent land surveyors.
What is the impact of Rail Baltic on the natural environment?
The pre-selection of route options was based on the principle that the railway should not pass through the Natura sites. This would ensure the protection and minimal disturbance of priority species and habitation sites. For each of the route options, a natural values research under the supervision of Tartu University was held, providing information on the existing situations and potential conflict areas. The main subjects researched were protected species, protected areas, large mammals, mid-sized mammals and bats. The survey also mapped the paths of animals and proposed mitigation measures (ecoducts and solutions for smaller animals).
- Ecoducts, tunnels and culverts, will be built along the most important green network corridors. Access under the fence should be provided to medium sized animals (smaller than a badger). An exception could be human settlements, which house domestic animals. A fence with a minimum height of 2,5 meters, should limit in particular the movements of ungulates and large carnivores, because they represent a real threat to rail traffic.
- During and after the railway construction, a goal is to preserve ecologically valuable habitat and nutrition sites.
- Geotextiles are used to ensure the protection of wetlands and water bodies, to prevent a potential contamination with suspended materials.
- In proximity to natural wetlands, water regimes important to vegetation and habitation sites, are monitored with particular attention.
- Passages for amphibians, reptiles and rodents, who can not climb over the rails, are built every 25-50 meter. These are simple channel-like openings.
- Noise barriers are built in areas that require them due to needs of the natural environment, for example near areas of black-grouse courtings.
- Building activity in forests is avoided during the main breeding periods of animals and birds, from April to June.
- Nature observation are continued after the construction of the railway, in order to detect effects, that could not be anticipated.
Does Rail Baltic pollute the air?
No. Allowed air pollution levels will not be exceeded outside of the fenced area (over 10 meters from the furthest rail). The railway is designed to be electrified for its entire length, which significantly decreased air pollution coming from the railway. One of the goals of Rail Baltic is, in fact to reduce air pollution in the transportation sector by taking over a part of goods and travelers currently using the highway.
What is the impact of Rail Baltic to ground- and surface water?
One of the most important topics in the strategic evaluation of environmental impacts, is the water regime of ground- and surface water and its preservation. This is important both in terms of the water supply of people, as well as the protection of natural habitats and the preservation of the conditions of the use of agricultural and economic lands. The only acceptable solution for designing and constructing railway routes, is one that does not worsen the water regimes A mandatory part of the design work are more detailed route studies that tackle also the questions pertaining to water regimes.
How are the Natura areas taken into account?
The selected route does not generally pass through the Natura areas. The Pärnu natural area of river crossings, is an exception in this instance. Within the framework of Natura-evaluations, all Natura areas falling within the impacted zones. Generally in connection to Natura areas, the impacts are indirect, such as through changes in the water regime. The goal is, however, to prevent negative effects.