Ratas: Rail Baltic in design phase, construction about to start

Model train
Model train Photo: Urmas Luik

Replying to a question from MPs in parliament on Monday, Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that the Rail Baltic project has progressed from the planning phase to the design phase in all three Baltic countries and construction work has started or is about to start in the territory of all three countries.

According to Ratas, contracts have been entered into in Estonia for the preparation of the main design of the railroad and related infrastructure in all three sections of the main corridor, spokespeople for the Riigikogu told BNS. Also the designing of the most important objects has begun.

„Rail Baltic will pass through 864 cadastral units in Estonia, of which 621 are cadastral units belonging to private owners and 74 are cadastral units belonging to a local government, which the state needs to acquire for the establishment of Rail Baltic. By February of this year, about 40 pieces of land had been acquired,“ Ratas said.

The prime minister said that in a democratic country the planning of large-scale infrastructure projects and objects takes time and it is often not possible to abide by the established timetable.

„For instance, the planning phase of Rail Baltic lasted from 2012 to 2018, although according to the more optimistic forecasts the deadline for the conduct of spatial planning was already the end of 2015. As you can see also from this, the difference is about three years,“ the prime minister said. 

He said that risks like this have been taken into account in the planning of the project and completing Rail Baltic on time is still possible.

As regards activities in Latvia and Lithuania, the premier said Rail Baltic is in a similar phase there as in Estonia.

„Spatial plans were endorsed in Latvia already in 2016, in Lithuania in 2017. Separate decisions are required for the sections between Kaunas and the Lithuanian-Polish border and Kaunas and Vilnius, special designated plans have been initiated. Design work is underway on about 75 percent of the 270-kilometer track. Construction work has advanced the farthest in the Kaunas area of Lithuania. By the end of 2020, an agreement will be concluded for the construction of the Riga airport terminal and railway. More important is the objective reiterated by the prime ministers of all the Baltic countries in Tallinn in February: to complete the Rail Baltic railway connection by the established deadline,“ Ratas said.

The prime minister said that the management arrangement of the construction process is not functioning as well as it should at present and needs to be changed.

„That there are those who design, that there are those who conduct construction tenders, that there are those who build – more of bringing things under the same roof is necessary. And I believe that it will yield a better result also in terms of time, in terms of tempo,“ he added.

The prime minister was responding to a question from Social Democrat MPs Ivari Padar, Katri Raik, Helmen Kütt, Riina Sikkut, Indrek Saar, Jevgeni Ossinovski, Kalvi Kõva, Jaak Juske, Lauri Läänemets and Raimond Kaljulaid on the state of play in the establishment of Rail Baltic, referring to a recent report of the National Audit Office that was critical both of the centrally conducted activities and activities in Estonia when it comes to the project’s implementation.

The MPs wanted to know, among other things, what is the prime minister’s assessment of the progress on the project and of the activities of Latvia and Lithuania in the implementation of the project to date.