An ambitious railway project is under way in the Baltic Region. Hailed as the largest infrastructure project in the region for the past 100 years, Rail Baltica is a new rail transport infrastructure with the goal of integrating the Baltic States in the European rail network.
The project includes five European Union countries – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and indirectly also Finland. It will connect Helsinki, Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevežys, Kaunas, Vilnius, Warsaw. The Baltic part of the Rail Baltica project is referred to as the Rail Baltica Global Project. According to Euronews, the estimated cost is of roughly €5.8 billion. The cost-benefit analysis, however, predicts the project would bring in up to €16.2 billion in return. EU funding of up to 85% of the project is available through its Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) instrument. The CEF fund has so far contributed more than €820 million to the project.
Rail Baltica is a common European project and not just a project for the region.Catherine Trautmann, Coordinator of the North-Sea Baltic TEN-T Corridor
The Rail Baltica project is seen as a symbolic return of the Baltic States to Europe. Until the Second World War the Baltic States were already connected to Europe with 1435 mm wide, but since the middle of 20th century the Baltic countries have been mainly linked to an East-West railway axis using the Russian gauge 1520 mm rails, reflected in current rail traffic flows.
Today, most rail freight traffic transported by railway in Baltic states originates from CIS countries, in particular from Russia, and rail transport services are mainly provided on East – West axis using existing 1520 mm gauge system which makes it difficult and costly to interconnect the Baltics with the rest of EU via Poland. There is a full consensus on the need to eliminate the Baltic missing rail link of the EU’s North Sea – Baltic TEN-T Core Network Corridor ensuring full integration of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the single European railway area.
Rail Baltica is a top six priority of the biggest projects in Europe and the EUCatherine Trautmann, Coordinator of the North-Sea Baltic TEN-T Corridor
It will be fully electrified so that any emissions will be avoided. The newest technologies and materials are going to be utilized in its construction. The line is planned so that it avoids the Natura 2000 protected areas as far as possible and without significant impact on other environmentally sensitive protected areas. Wherever necessary, noise protection barriers will be installed. Special animal passages will be built through the embankment.
Rail Baltica will be built using the most up-to-date technologies and materials. Some of them are still in the process of elaboration, standardization or early stages of commercialization. New intermodal freight terminals will be built in each of the Baltic countries to allow for fast and efficient transfer of containerized cargo between different transport modes. Railway stations will represent the latest developments in the area of multimodal passenger terminals connecting conveniently different urban, regional and long distance services with car and bike parking, shopping and recreational areas.
The newest generation of European railway traffic management system (ERTMS) will be used to control the train movement. All crossings with roads and pedestrian pathways will be at two levels. It will be fenced in full length. Passenger stations will have all the necessary facilities in order to make the access to the train services an easy and pleasant experience to anybody.