Rail Baltica
Rail Baltica is one of the priority projects of the European Union Trans-European Transport Networks
Trans-European Transport Networks
The Trans-European Transport Networks are a planned set of road, rail, air and water transport networks designed to serve the entire continent of Europe. The TEN-T networks are part of a wider system of Trans-European Networks , including a telecommunications network and a proposed energy network...

 (TEN-T). The project is supposed to link Finland, the Baltic States
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 and Poland and also improve the connection between Central and Eastern Europe and Germany. It envisages a continuous rail link from Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It occupies an area of with a population of 414,940. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg. Tallinn's Old Town is in the list...

 (Estonia), to Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 (Poland), going via Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

, (Latvia) and Kaunas
Kaunas is the second-largest city in Lithuania and has historically been a leading centre of Lithuanian economic, academic, and cultural life. Kaunas was the biggest city and the center of a powiat in Trakai Voivodeship of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since 1413. During Russian Empire occupation...

, (Lithuania). It will by-pass the Kaliningrad Oblast
Kaliningrad Oblast
Kaliningrad Oblast is a federal subject of Russia situated on the Baltic coast. It has a population of The oblast forms the westernmost part of the Russian Federation, but it has no land connection to the rest of Russia. Since its creation it has been an exclave of the Russian SFSR and then the...

, Russia and Hrodno, Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 where the two historic rail routes Poland-Lithuania have been going.

The section from Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

 to Tallinn will be operated by existing commercial ferries
A ferry is a form of transportation, usually a boat, but sometimes a ship, used to carry primarily passengers, and sometimes vehicles and cargo as well, across a body of water. Most ferries operate on regular, frequent, return services...

. In the future a proposed Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel
Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel
thumb|250px|A tunnel from Helsinki to Tallinn would connect to [[Rail Baltica]].The Helsinki to Tallinn Tunnel is a proposed undersea tunnel that would span the Gulf of Finland and connect the Finnish and Estonian capitals....

 could provide a rail link between the two cities. The length of the railway between Tallinn and Warsaw will be at least 950 kilometres (590.3 mi).

Route and standard

There are two options to build the Rail Baltica. Both options include an upgrade of the existing railway (with standard gauge
Standard gauge
The standard gauge is a widely-used track gauge . Approximately 60% of the world's existing railway lines are built to this gauge...

) Warsaw–Białystok–Ełk–Trakiszki
Trakiszki is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Puńsk, within Sejny County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, in north-eastern Poland, close to the border with Lithuania. It lies approximately east of Puńsk, north-west of Sejny, and north of the regional capital Białystok.-References:...

 to 160 km/h (99.4 mph), and a new railway with standard gauge Trakiszki-Kaunas.

Option one is to upgrade the existing railway Joniškis
Joniškis is a city in northern Lithuania with a population of about 11,150. It is located 40 kilometers north of Šiauliai and 14 kilometers south of the Lithuania–Latvia border...

Tartu is the second largest city of Estonia. In contrast to Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural hub, especially since it is home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned university. Situated 186 km southeast of Tallinn, the...

–Tallinn to 160 km/h, keeping Russian gauge
Russian gauge
In railway terminology, Russian gauge refers to railway track with a gauge between 1,520 mm and . In a narrow sense as defined by Russian Railways it refers to gauge....

, and a new railway Kaunas-Joniškis with 160 km/h. Because of the break of gauge, a freight reloading (or bogie exchange
Bogie exchange
Bogie exchange is a system for operating railway wagons on two or more gauges to overcome difference in the track gauge. To perform a bogie exchange, a car is converted from one gauge to another by removing the chassis containing the wheels and axles of the car, and installing a new chassis with...

) station would be placed near Kaunas. Passengers would have to change trains in Kaunas.

Option two is a new railway with 200 km/h (124.3 mph) speed and standard gauge: Trakiszki-Kaunas-Joniškis-Riga-Pärnu-Tallinn. There is an EU high-speed directive saying that the new TEN-T lines should have 250 km/h (155.3 mph) speed, and upgrades 200 km/h speed but it is hard to finance the project as it is.

Reports in March 2011 indicate plans are moving towards a standard gauge railway, with a slightly modified route: Tallinn–Pärnu
Pärnu is a city in southwestern Estonia on the coast of Pärnu Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea. It is a popular summer vacation resort with many hotels, restaurants, and large beaches. The Pärnu River flows through the city and drains into the Gulf of Riga...

Bauska is a town in Bauska municipality, in the Zemgale region of southern Latvia. The town is situated at the confluence of the rivers Mūsa and Mēmele where they form the Lielupe River...

Panevėžys see also other names, is the fifth largest city in Lithuania. As of 2008, it occupied 50 square kilometers with 113,653 inhabitants. The largest multifunctional arena in Panevėžys is the Cido Arena...

–Kaunas with a feasibility study expected until May 2011.The feasibility study recommended as expected standard gauge and examined the modified route. It says line will cost about 3.86 bln Euro in total.

Financing and the time horizon

The project will be financed by the member states and by the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 TEN-T budget (
The euro is the official currency of the eurozone: 17 of the 27 member states of the European Union. It is also the currency used by the Institutions of the European Union. The eurozone consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg,...

124 million), Structural and Cohesion Funds provided to the EU New Member States. The total cost is expected to be around €1.5 billion for option one and around €2.4 billion for option two.

The first phase of the project will be completed by 2013, while the second phase should be finished in 2020.

The 66 kilometres (41 mi) line between Tartu to Valga (on the Latvian border) in Estonia was the first part to be renovated. This was done by the Finnish VR Group
VR Group
VR or VR Group is a state-owned railway company in Finland. Formerly known as Suomen Valtion Rautatiet until 1922 and Valtionrautatiet / Statsjärnvägarna until 1995...

 from 2008 to 2010. The cost was €40M.

In Lithuania, the two parts Polish border-Marijampolė
Marijampolė is an industrial city and the capital of the Marijampolė County in the south of Lithuania, bordering Poland and Russian Kaliningrad oblast, and Lake Vištytis. The population of Marijampolė is 48,700...

 (using standard gauge) and Šiauliai
Šiauliai , is the fourth largest city in Lithuania, with a population of 133,900. It is the capital of Šiauliai County. Unofficially, the city is the capital of Northern Lithuania.-Names:...

-Latvian border (using broad gauge) will be new built, to be finished 2015, costing €270M. In Latvia the existing railway will be upgraded, to be finished 2015, costing €97M. The EU will contribute with about 25 % of the cost for the three parts.

The EU also finances a technical study for a new standard gauge railway between Estonia and Poland.

According to Juhan Parts, the Estonian Minister of Economy and Communications, on the 10th of November, 2011, the prime minsters of the baltic countries agreed to form a joint venture to move the project forward. The current timetable envisages construction starting in 2018 and completion in 2023.


Rail Baltica creates the possibility to shift the major freight transport in the regions from road to rail, which for the time being is transported towards Russia and then north by heavy trucks. In the case of Poland the trucks follow the local roads and directly cross the villages of Podlaskie Voivodeship
Podlaskie Voivodeship
Podlaskie Voivodeship , is a voivodeship in northeastern Poland. It borders on Masovian Voivodeship to the west, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship to the northwest, Lublin Voivodeship to the south, the Belarusssian Voblasts of Grodno and Brest to the east, the Lithuanian Counties of Alytus and...

 (north-east Poland) creating danger to their inhabitants. Transporting the freight by rail would increase the safety of the local roads and also reduce the CO2 emissions and oil consumption. Furthermore, it would create a convenient passenger connection which does not exist at the moment.

Rail Baltica could be a sustainable sound alternative to the planned Via Baltica motorway which has proved controversial on environmental grounds. In contrast to Via Baltica, the implementation of the Rail Baltica project could become a good practical example of sustainable and efficient utilisation of the Cohesion and Structural Funds, bringing social and economical benefits, as well as environmental and climatic improvements.

Railways currently have a low number of passengers along the route, especially in Estonia and Latvia. International travel is done by car, bus and air with very little by train.

Constraints to be resolved

One of the project's aspects is the conversion of the Baltic States' rail network to Standard Gauge
Standard gauge
The standard gauge is a widely-used track gauge . Approximately 60% of the world's existing railway lines are built to this gauge...

, thus improving rail integration with Europe at the expense of integration with the Russian system .

If the north-south railways are converted to standard gauge, the west-east railways are still not likely to be converted, since they are used for freight and passenger trains to Russia. There is even a consideration to build a new high-speed railway Riga–Moscow. That project is not prioritized by the EU and Latvia until Rail Baltica is finished.

External links

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