Transport Minister wants explanation for Rail Baltica delays

Minister of Transport Jānis Vitenbergs (National Alliance) expects to see an action plan for solving the problems and delays of the "Rail Baltica" project within two weeks, according to the Ministry of Transport on January 3.

On Tuesday, the Minister met with the management of the companies RB Rail and Europas Dzelzceļa lijnas, which are responsible for the ambitious 5.8-billion-euro infrastructure project's section on Latvian territory. 

"After the meeting, the minister stated that concerns about the seriousness of the situation have been confirmed, and instructed the involved parties to prepare an action plan to eliminate the problems within two weeks," the Ministry said in a release.

"After what we heard today, we must conclude that the project is experiencing significant delays. It was not only Covid-19, Russia's hostilities in Ukraine and other important considerations, but also some shortcomings in project management and regulatory acts. The "Rail Baltica" railway line is the largest infrastructure project in the Baltics of our generation, and connectivity with Western Europe is an essential economic and security aspect," said Vitenbergs. 

Agnis Driksna, chairman of the board and executive director of RB Rail, stated that there were a number of processes in the project that hindered progress.

Driksna stated: "Complications in design, a heavy and complicated process of expropriation of land, obstacles in obtaining funding from European Union funds are the main reasons why instead of the predicted year of 2026, it is likely that we will be able to build the new track in its final stages only in 2030."

"We are aware of the seriousness of the situation and respect the minister's demand for the development of a detailed plan, especially taking into account aspects of national security. In order to eliminate the identified problems, the involvement of other ministries and municipalities will also be necessary," said Driksna.

"It is clear that design is very difficult, because 265 kilometers cannot be designed in the same way as one house or one cultural object. It is a linear construction that crosses the whole of Latvia," noted Driksna, in what must count as a one of 2023's earliest statements of the obvious. 

The original plan predicted that the project would be completed in 2026, but now it appears that the project will be ready only in 2030 and the first connection between Rīga and the Lithuanian border in 2028. Currently, large-scale construction works are taking place at Rīga central station and at Riga Airport, while this year there is a plan to start construction works outside Rīga. 

Nevertheless, RB Rail's website continues to identify 2026 as the expected end date of the project. 

The Rail Baltica project envisages the creation of a modern, high-speed railway line of European standard gauge from Tallinn to the border of Lithuania and Poland, so that it will be possible to connect the Baltic states with other European countries by an efficient rail link. In the Baltic States, it is planned to build a new, 870-kilometer-long railway line of European gauge (1,435 millimeters) with a maximum train speed of 240 kilometers per hour.

It is expected that the costs of "Rail Baltica" will reach 5.8 billion euros, though given the significantly extended end date and increased construction costs, it would not be suprising if that price tag is revised upwards. 85% of the costs will be covered from the funds of the European Union, with each of the Baltic states chipping in an additional 5%. 

Our colleages at ERR News in Estonia report that construction of the main line in Estonia is expected to begin this fall.

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