The government decided to close Pärnu railway from 2019

PHOTO: Sille Annuk

The last train will leave from Lelle to Pärnu and back on December 31, 2018; rail traffic to Pärnu will be discontinued from January 1 until the completion of Rail Baltic, the government decided at its July 17 session, which discussed the future of railways in Estonia.

The government decided to discontinue procuring public transport on the Lelle-Pärnu railway line from January 1. 2019, because maintaining travel speed on the line over 60 kilometers per hour would require spending approximately 17 million euros on railway renovation. The government does not view spending such sum as reasonable, considering that the construction of Rail Baltic will begin.

The high-speed railway linking the three Baltic states to the rest of Europe is planned to be completed by 2025, while passenger traffic should begin in 2026.

Passenger traffic between Lelle and Pärnu will be organized by bus from 2019, while rail traffic from Lelle to Tallinn and Viljandi will continue. The Lelle railway station will remain open as well.

“There are already efficient bus lines within the Pärnu county”, said Minister of Economy and Infrastructure Kadri Simson. “For example, buses leave from Tootsi railway station to Pärnu eight times per day, but trains only twice. Closing the Lelle-Pärnu line from 2019 will bring along reorganization of local public transport, but I am certain that it can be accomplished in the remaining time.”

The minister added that upon the completion of Rail Baltic Pärnu will obtain excellent rail connection with Tallinn and Riga; therefore the representatives of the local governments recommended using the sum planned for repairing the Lelle-Pärnu railway stretch for renovating the Pärnu airport instead.

“The government decided this spring to make loan and invest a further 135 million euros in more important infrastructure projects, including 40 million in railways. The goal is to increase the speed of trains on the Tallinn-Tartu and Tallinn-Narva railways to 135 kilometers per hour and to complete the first stage of railway to Haapsalu, i.e. the Riisipere-Turba railway”, Simson said.

The Ministry of Economy and Communication will submit the railway action plan to the government in October. Besides the above it should include the reconstruction of the Tallinn-Viljandi railway. This means a thorough reconstruction of the Rapla-Türi stretch in two stages in 2022 and 2024 for 18.5 million euros. After the reconstruction trains should be able to travel from Tallinn to Viljandi in 1.5 hours instead of the present 3.5 hours.

The government generally agreed on Monday that the development of Estonia’s public railways will continue according to the basic scenario: the railway must be at least as good as it is at present and the investments must ensure retaining its throughput capacity. Safety standards on railways must be at least as high as presently; it will be improved within the large-scale infrastructure investments program agreed upon in spring.

Railway network will be broken up

In the opinion of Rain Kaarjas, the head of Edelaraudtee Infrastruktuuri AS, the government’s decision deprives Estonia of a continuous railway network, which links Estonia’s major cities and centers. “Estonia’s railway map will be no longer continuous after the closing of the Lelle-Pärnu stretch”, Kaarjas said. “Large-scale projects may easily become more costly and their completion may be delayed; therefore I cannot predict when the residents of Pärnu county will be able to travel by train again.”

According to Kaarjas, the Tootsi and Pärnu stations will now remain without renovation as well, while the platforms built with the EU support to the Lelle-Pärnu railway will be unused. Construction of Rail Baltic will also become more costly as the materials would have to be carried by road.

Meelis Kukk, deputy mayor of Pärnu, described the government resolution as a blow, since this will deprive the residents of Pärnu and Lelle of railway for six years at least.

“This is a long time. It is very bad news”; Kukk said, adding that there had been a lot of arguing over the infrastructure funding. “I understood that there was an option of the state concluding a long-term agreement with Edelaraudtee and the firm will repair the railway on its own. Apparently there have been discussions meanwhile… I cannot say what this decision is related to.”

“This is bad news”, Pärnu county governor Kalev Kaljuste commented. According to him, the decision could have been expected, since the government had already agreed to support the renovation of the Pärnu airport with 20 million euros. In his words, the travel to Tallinn of the residents along the closed stretch will become an hour longer, since the buses would then travel through Pärnu.

Kaljuste added that Rail Baltic should have local stations. One could be in Tootsi, Northern Pärnu county, the other in Häädemeeste, Southern Pärnu county. “If the state can find money for building railway to Haapsalu, which is financially unviable, it should also find money for local stations of Rail Baltic in Pärnu county.”