More residents rail against Rail Baltica

The Rail Baltica II high-speed train line, still years from even breaking ground, continued to stir up negative public sentiments among residents in Rīga’s Āgenskalns neighborhood Friday, the capital’s southwestern suburb of Mārupe Saturday and the northeast suburb of Vangaži Monday at town hall meetings introducing the massive transportation project.

On Monday in Vangaži about 100 residents gathered to learn what they could about Rail Baltica, which is sure to come through their town, but affect relatively few residential properties. Local homeowners were more worried about the possible impact of the construction works and regular train traffic afterwards on the local environment as such, which has lots of green zones that make for a good quality of life.

Public attitudes expressed in Vangaži, though not without pointed questions, actually seemed open and favorable compared to the situation in the city and its western side of the Daugava this weekend.

On Saturday in Mārupe over 300 people packed the local government culture hall and held sharp discussions over the construction’s expected impact on the suburban community, which fears it will be split into two halves by Rail Baltica. However, the project’s authors claimed the rail line’s branch to the international airport won’t require any razing of homes or rerouting of traffic patterns because the train lines will be built on two levels.

The local government was well-prepared for the onslaught of residents lining up to speak into the open microphone that the project is completely unnecessary to them. Latvian Radio correspondent Edgars Kupčs reported that the people think they have a good, calm life right now – enterprises developing, homes rising, local plans being drafted and construction on track, but that the train will ruin it all with its vibration and noise.

Indeed, the factory Polipaks NT – one of the region’s modern packaging material manufacturing facilities, is potentially threatened by Rail Baltica, as expected construction impacts could disturb the €28 million plant’s delicately calibrated machinery about to be launched soon. Naturally the company is dead set against any Rail Baltica whatsoever.

Altogether more than 1500 signatures were collected in the Mārupe local government against the plan.

Also downtown in Rīga’s historic cobblestoned Āgenskalns neighborhood Friday over 400 people assembled at the city council’s district executive building in Pārdaugava. Here the issue is a proposed underground tunnel option which has residents riled up over the prospect.

Project managers told the crowd the drilling would happen 50 meters below ground for a 4-kilometer distance while residents requested examples of other successful projects elsewhere in Europe or the world, as well as asking about alternatives. Many expressed doubt whether a rail extension to the airport was even necessary, and worried about vibrations and noise created by the trains.  

The Rail Baltica II project will complete its formal preliminary public discussion phase on March 15. More town hall meetings have been scheduled this week in Riga's eastern suburban village of Zaķumuiža Tuesday, and the northeastern suburban town of Garkalne Wednesday.

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