Left bank alliance activists raise alarm over Rail Baltica plans in Latvia

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The unofficial “left bank alliance”, which is made up of neighborhood associations from the Āgenskalns, Bieriņi, Torņakalns and Zasulauks suburbs of Rīga, has expressed alarm over the planning of the Rail Baltica rail route, concerned that the once-in-a-century project could create a barrier bisecting the area and upend traffic with complicated crossings, according to a Latvian Radio broadcast on January 16.

Although there is no visible construction yet, the rail route planning stage continues in Rīga. Mayor Oļegs Burovs (Honor to Serve Rīga) participated in a discussion on the project in December 2019, where he signaled that the city council is changing the way it looks at the project - from an expensive burden to a development opportunity.

“We assess it as a development project, not just a rail project. It's currently one of the main tasks for the Rīga municipality. Time flies by,” said Burovs.

However the left bank alliance isn't convinced by all the unknown factors. They even feel that the rail route planning is being deliberately delayed. Because the high-speed rails won't be level with the parallel local rails, Āgenskalns Neighborhood Association member and architect Oto Ozols is worried that the planners will offer the cheapest and most inconvenient solutions for crossing the rails.

“We've emphasized that we want this crossing underneath in the form of a tunnel. It's a project that will affect many generations. That's why saving at the expense of human comfort and mobility is really not smart,” said Ozols.

Rīga City Council City Development Department Acting Director Ilze Purmale agrees that a straight across intersection isn't possible and that building over such a great as to clear the communications wires also isn't practical.

“Taking into account that it's Āgenskalns, a protected territory, all these sensitive things with structures and in addition the Stradins Hospital with all of its needs – building a crossing over the top is almost mission impossible," said Purmale.

RB Rail is responsible for the main route, whereas European Rail Line is responsible for the Central Station, so the speed of planning differs. Spanish engineering agencies IDOM and INECO have been planning the main route, but local planning is being carried out by Grupa 93 and it's managing director Neils Balgalis, who denies that the opinions of the residents are not being heard.

“The process is such: the planner comes, conducts research in stages, meets and talks with residents, talks to us and the city of Rīga,” said Balgalis.

Balgalis projects that a public discussion on the Rail Baltica local planning could take place in August of this year, though Purmale is skeptical. She does, however, promise to report to residents every two months and fight for the city's interests in conversations with planners. Improvement of the surrounding infrastructure currently doesn't have financing, but the municipality hopes to attract part of the money through European funds.

RB Rail Regional Director Ģirts Bramans said that the project is currently in the geotechnical works stage and that crossings will be discussed later. He also said that the primary concern over convenience is people's safety.

As previously reported, about 30 people staged a picket in the center of Rīga in 2015 against plans to construct a tunnel in the suburb of Āgenskalns as part of Rail Baltica II European-gauge railway project, reported the BNS news agency.

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