Concerns raised about Rail Baltica construction in Pārdaugava in Latvia

On Monday, June 15, designers presented the results of the engineering study in the more densely populated section of Pardaugava from Jelgava to Liepaja Street, Latvian Radio reported on June 15.

How will the construction of the railway line called “Rail Baltica” change the features of Pardaugava and the everyday lives of people? This is a question to which people on the left bank of Riga have been waiting for several years since the government approved the deployment of the railway route in 2016. The most heated discussion regarded the railway tunnel, which the designers offer to form shorter than they originally intended.

This was the first discussion after a five-month pause on how Rail Baltica will affect daily life in the future. Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits (New Conservative Party) stressed that the new railway infrastructure should be built in a citizen-friendly and attractive urban environment.

"Of course, there is nothing unusual about railway tunnels around the world, but we are building one for the first time in Latvia. It is important to keep in mind the historical surroundings of Torņakalns and Āgenskalns. [..] The design must be carried out in such a way that the construction is subtle enough," the Transport Minister said.

It is precisely design and proximity to the surroundings that highlights disagreements among designers and neighborhood residents. The new Rail Baltica route in Riga will go alongside the existing railway tracks, while the narrower stretch of Torņakalns will dive into the tunnel.

“This tunnel has an impact on the environment and the ecosystem, but the environment is also counterproductive to the design of the tunnel. [..] Accordingly, our conclusion is that the solution initially proposed is both irrational and almost impossible from a point of view of construction and maintenance. The risks to the maintenance of the construction are disproportionate,” said Rihards Ieviņš, representative of project association "IDOM-INECO".

The development is actively followed by the Society of Residents of Pardaugava, whose activists include both architects and historians.

"We see that in reality we, non-governmental organisations and professionals who want to be involved, unfortunately, are perceived by project promoters as a sort of a decoration to be pinned to one's coat and bragging about it - see, we are engaging the society. But the real work is not taking place today, in this room, but it has happened for half a year in other rooms, " said architect Oto Ozols of the Āgenskalns Society.

Therefore, four neighbourhood associations, in an open letter, ask to be informed more frequently about the progress of the project and to listen to the population, and to re-evaluate decisions.

“We see that the existing solution ignores the needs of the people of Pardaugava. The new railway solution poses risks to degrade the area and does not exploit its potential to improve the infrastructure of the left coast,” said architect Madara Gibze of the Āgenskalns Society.

The management of RB Rail has promised that, along with more specific project solutions, the involvement of the public in their consultation will be more frequent and regular. The construction of the “Rail Baltica” section will be completed next year, but the first “Rail Baltica” works at the Riga Central Railway Station will begin this autumn.

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