Transport Minister: China could build Rail Baltica for us

Latvian Transport Minister Uldis Augulis on Tuesday suggested Chinese companies could take care of the complex process of planning and constructing Rail Baltica, a European Union-backed major infrastructure project to build a high-speed rail link connecting the Baltic states to Poland and Germany.

Speaking on LTV morning current affair program Rita Panorama, Augulis said that as Latvian engineers have little experience designing such large-scale projects, Chinese expertise could have a role to play.

"First of all Rail Baltica needs to be planned and Latvia does not have a great deal of experience with such rail projects," Augulis said.

"There are opportunities for Chinese technical experts to participate in tenders for their expertise help to find technical solutions," said Augulis, "and also builders who in the future could participate in tenders and use their experience in building such railway lines."

"When the tenders are issued there will be offers and interest from the Chinese side," he said.

A special multifunctional transit and distribution center could be constructed near Salaspils to act as a coordination point for road, rail and sea traffic, Augulis said.

A 2011 study by British company Aecom Ltd said the Baltic link will cost €3.68 billion, with Latvia investing €1.27 billion. The lion’s share of the project is covered by the European Union, making the involvement of Chinese companies a possible bone of contention.

The total length of Rail Baltica is planned to be 729 km of which 235 km will be in the territory of Latvia.

The idea about Chinese involvement comes as Riga hosts an annual conference of European and Asian transport officials flagging up Latvia's potential as a transport and transit location.

On Monday Augulis met with chinese vice-minister for Transport Dai Dongchang and talked up the prospects of Latvia becoming a regional transport hub for the distribution of Chinese goods, possibly involving freeports or special economic zones.

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