An all-European effort
The Rail Baltica Global Project – operated by RB Rail – has the mission to link nations, people, and places; and open up a host of trade opportunities for the Baltics, thus deepening the region’s integration within the EU
For Ignas Degutis, Member of the Management Board and Chief Financial Officer at RB Rail AS, the construction of the Rail Baltica line will bring a new economic order to the three Baltic nations – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia; and contribute significantly to the expansion of the wider European rail ecosystem. The greenfield railway infrastructure project, whose aim is to link Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland with a European standard gauge line, is currently in its design and land acquisition phases, with actual construction expected to begin in 2021 and conclude five years later.
“The benefits for people and businesses will truly be manifold,” Ignas states. “For example, travel time between the countries will be significantly reduced. If you wanted to reach Riga from Vilnius now, it would take you about four hours by car or bus, while once the rail line is in operation, the journey will be completed in less than two hours. As for businesses, we are developing three intermodal/multimodal terminals in each of the three countries, which will improve transport and logistics efficiency, and create new opportunities for investment and trade in the region. In total, we are expecting to see economic benefits of around 18 billion euros throughout the next 30 years, which will outweigh the cost of the project threefold.”
As part of the EU’s North Sea Baltic TEN-T corridor, Rail Baltica is also viewed as being vital for the significant improvement of Europe’s transport network. Since the end of World War II, the Baltic countries have been mainly linked to an East-West railway axis using the Russian gauge 1520 mm rails. With the rest of EU using a 1435 mm wide gauge system, it has been difficult to interconnect the Baltics, hence the decision to build the missing cross-border connections and realise the symbolic return of the Baltic countries to Europe, opening a new North-South axis.
“The project will also play a positive role in ensuring a more sustainable future for the Baltic area,” Ignas continues. “We are looking to promote rail transport as a viable alternative to road and air transport for both freight and passenger traffic. Our goal is to decrease CO2 emissions by about 18 per cent and reduce noise pollution by a further five per cent.”
What is unique about the Rail Baltica line, is that it is the first high-speed railway cross-border project in Europe that involves more than two countries. Adding to this the fact that Finland and Poland are also engaged with its completion and that it is being overseen by the European Commission, it becomes clear that stakeholder management is and will continue to be key for its success. Ignas reveals some of the practices that have been put in place to create and maintain efficient collaboration between stakeholders: “The three Baltic states formed a joint venture in 2014, in order to co-ordinate the activities of the project and also meet the requirement of the European Commission to have a one-stop shop for everyone involved in the programme.
“Another key step we have taken was to establish six reference groups for stakeholder management of different aspects of the project, including its technical properties, operation, and commercialisation. Various ministries, regional municipalities, and even some universities are involved and everything we do is aligned with all stakeholders,” he adds. “We also have a clear scheme that defines who is procuring what. For instance, the joint venture is responsible for the co-ordination of the global project, the construction of the cross-border sections, the electrification, and the deployment of command, control, and signalling. Then, local companies established by the Ministries of Transport will construct the main route and the intermodal stations, as well as develop local facilities for infrastructure and rolling stock maintenance.”
Pointing out some of the key technical parameters, Ignas says that the 870-km double-track electrified and ERTMS-equipped line has a design speed of 249 km/h for passenger and 120 km/h for freight trains. “We have also increased the axle load to 25t and the line will be fit to serve longer freight trains of up to 1050m, too. It is to our delight to observe that we seem to be changing other European countries’ perceptions of how a high-speed rail project can be implemented. For example, Poland is now adopting the standards to which we are executing our project, including the introduction of 2×25 kVAC-powered lines.
“Finally, we are very pleased that the Rail Baltica line has become one joint effort in which multiple European countries are playing a part. We have suppliers from all over the continent. UK companies help us with infrastructure management, French businesses have offered invaluable support in delivering design guidelines and setting operation standards, while from Spain, France and Germany, we have suppliers who are designing the line. This is just a handful of the countries whose innovative companies are partnering with us to make the line an all-European project,” Ignas concludes.