Rail Baltica route stirs local objections

Take note – story published 9 years ago

Plans for a high speed rail link through the Baltic states - dubbed 'Rail Baltica' - have been welcomed at European and government level. However, in some of the districts through which the tracks will pass, the idea gets a less enthusiastic reception, reports Latvian Radio's Edgars Kupčs.

When complete Rail Baltica will provide a new European standard gauge railway line construction in the Baltic countries, which currently still use the old Soviet broad gauge. 

The total cost to Latvia is estimated at €1.27bn of a €3.68 price tag for the Baltic stretch of the line, which it is hoped would also run to Warsaw and Berlin. The European Commission would co-finance 85% of the total cost of the project and construction work is due to start in 2016, though the project has been beset by delays from the start. 

Most of the 17 municipalities around Riga agree that the route should have links to Riga Airport or Riga Port. But two districts that would be affected by such a move, Mārupe and Babīte, have voiced their objections: .

Mārupe council argues the district would effectively be sliced in two by the tracks. In contrast Babīte is voicing concerns that heavy goods trains with a variety of cargoes would be thundering through a heavily-populated area and would destroy a locl park and cemetery.

Both districts are also annoyed that a list of 12 route options was draw up without local consultation.

Mārupe council leader Martins Bojārs explains that Marupe will be affected by two of the 12 track variants, the first linking to a planned new Riga port facility, and the other parallel to the A5 highway leading to the airport.

"We are very close to the territory of Riga. From Jaunmārupe, which is the furthermost part of the distric to the city center is seven kilometers. There's a lot of very active building work taking place on the land there. So to create artificial split would not be appropriate or the right thing to do," says Bojārs.

Ilze Kremera  of Marupe municipality's Development Department is worried bout the economic impact of the line, which would come with a 300-meter wide protection zone around it. "The safety aspects have not been evaluated but nor have the economic aspects. Increased investment has been talked about but there is no assessment of how many jobs will be lost or the losses suffered by businesses," she says.

In Babīte, council chairman Andrew Ence is staunchly opposed to the proposed routes, saying that despite five years in which routes have been worked, environmental protection has been ignored. The line would pass through densely-populated areas, a nature park and a hundred-year-old graveyard. 

"How we can accept such fantasies? Is it proper to kick people out of their houses and dig up their graves?" asks Ence.

Both Mārupe and Babīte agree that the best place to put the main Latvian stop along the route would be the town of Salaspils, just outside Riga. Freight routes would be cheaper to build on existing routes to Riga port and passengers on their way to the airport would still be able to pass through Riga easily, they argue.


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