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Ko dara ar Kremļa politikas piekritējiem Latvijā?

"Rail Baltica" cauri visai Rīgai neies; trūkst ap 3 miljardiem eiro

Rail Baltica was not built in a day, and unlikely in six years

By dividing the construction of Rail Baltica into stages, the total cost could be reduced, according to the Transport Ministry. However, even if it manages to attract all the hoped-for European money, there is still no answer on how to finance the missing part, which is about three billion euros by 2030, reports the Latvian Televizija (LTV) broadcast De Facto on March 24.

The Ministry of Transport has submitted a report for agreement on what our project of the century should look like in six years, and where the money will come from. The document is still restricted, but some of its outlines are already emerging. For example, even in the most positive scenario, Rail Baltica cannot be built through Riga by 2030. 

No decisions have been taken on what the first phase of the line should look like or how it will be financed.

In its information report to the government, the Ministry of Transport proposes an option in which the Rail Baltica route would include a connection to both Riga stations - Central and Airport - already in the first stage. These two stations are the only ones for which construction has started in the Latvian section. In recent months, the construction of the Central Station has been celebrated with loud publicity events, as well as the start of construction of the first three spans of the railway bridge. 

However it is not yet clear whether the first phase of work, until 2030, will be financed by the European Commission for the bridge across the Daugava. So far, 20 million have been allocated for the first three spans, but fifteen spans are needed. 

"The regional baseline elements will be a top priority in any case, also from the perspective of European Union funding. After all, there is also a construction contract, which includes both the southern direction to Lithuania with Iecava as this main construction base, and the direction to Estonia, to the north, with Skulte as the main base. It is clear that it is not possible to run trains in 2031, even in theory, if these regional baselines are not in place," says Transport Minister Kaspars Briškens (Progressives).

De Facto found out that the Ministry of Transport is proposing the following scenario to the government: the train, coming from Estonia, would cross the Daugava near Salaspils, and at Misa, there would be a branch line, which would take it to Riga Airport and then enter Riga Central Station, then reverse this route and continue to Lithuania via Misa and Iecava. This would extend the journey time to Riga by about 20 minutes, Briškens said. 

There would be no tunnel in Torņakalns, but a European gauge line would be built along the same route, as part of a realignment of the existing rail network. This would take less time and money.

However, it is already clear that the section on the right bank of the Daugava - from Riga Central Station to Saurieši near Salaspils - cannot be built in six years, even under the most optimistic scenarios.

"What is currently proposed is theoretically, from a technical perspective, feasible by 2030. Of course, as you said, if the funding is available, if we are successful, we might be able to attract private-public partnerships in some elements of this particular segment. Then it is theoretically possible to do it by 2030, but the risks certainly remain," says Briškens.

Over the past year, active land reclaiming has finally started, with around half of the 2,000 properties needed now taken over. However, the next step to start work - the preparation of construction plans - has stalled. The first of four construction plans needed for the first 12 kilometers of the track near Iecava has been handed over to the project promoter and construction client, European Railway Lines. The rest are not ready and the question is whether a functioning track can still be built in six years.

"It can [be built], but then it means that this year there has to be a very radical turn, that this year all or most or at least the majority of the construction projects in the southern direction have to be ready. Without that, it will not be possible. (...) We cannot waste a builder's time with some unfinished sketches," says Kaspars Vingris, CEO of the European Railway Lines.

Ēriks Diļevs, head of the Latvian branch of RB Rail, the company responsible for the design, says that "the project promoter in Latvia, European Railway Lines, has been handed over a complete construction project in terms of Latvian legislation in order to start the first construction works on the main line in Iecava in the summer, according to the construction timetable."

RB Rail promises that by the end of this year, construction plans for more than 100 kilometers of tracks will have been handed over to European Railway Lines.

The Ministry of Transport submitted its first report to the Government with possible solutions for the development of Rail Baltica at the beginning of December. A new, more detailed report with options was submitted in mid-February. Several sources questioned the specificity of the document's content, but as the report is not publicly available, it could not be verified.

"I would like to stress that the level of detail is very high. In fact, I do not recall in the government that such a detailed information report has ever been considered, both for this first phase implementation scenario and for the changes we have proposed, including in the project management mechanism," Briškens said. 

A government thematic committee, chaired by the Transport Minister and including most of the ministers, was also set up at the end of February to discuss the implementation of the project. The Transport Ministry has been asked to change the governance of the Rail Baltica project before taking decisive decisions.

For example, a tender has now been launched for an official to manage the process from the Ministry's side.

"I think we can always work on more and more models, but what matters is what works. When I first met a lot of people responsible for Rail Baltica, I never fully understood who was the main person responsible and who was responsible for finance, who was responsible for design, and who was responsible for procurement. So my task was also to immediately rework the model, and I hope that after this new solution we have proposed, the people who come to me next time will be able to say that they are responsible for it," says Prime Minister Evika Siliņa (New Unity). 

Although time is running out, the Prime Minister is not yet ready to say when the Transport Ministry's plans might be put on the government's agenda. "I think only when we are sure that we can go ahead with such a responsible project, then we will be able to move forward, because I think it is better to be sure that we are doing the right thing, that we know who will be responsible for what, let's discuss maybe with the responsible people whether they understand their area of responsibility, and then let's move forward," Siliņa said.

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