Sa, 25.03.2023

Next year, fast express trains will carry people to work to the capital

Carl-Robert Puhm
, majandusajakirjanik
Next year, fast express trains will carry people to work to the capital
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Photo: Arvo Meeks
  • The reconstruction, which has taken years, will be completed.
  • Additional track between Keila and Pääsküla provides for a tighter schedule.
  • The speed of the trains approaches maximum.

While train ride from Keila to the Tallinn Balti station takes currently 50 minutes, covering the distance in peak hours would take less than half an hour next year.

The premise for saving time is provided by the reconstruction of the West Harju railway, which has lasted for years, and allows both a more frequent schedule and the use of express trains.

The railway lines to the west of Tallinn have been reconstructed for more than five years. Stations, contact networks, new tracks, waiting platforms, tunnels, bridges and overpasses have been built, and the Soviet-era traffic control systems have been replaced. Of course, this has meant some trouble for the passengers: in the best case, the inconvenience has been limited to a less frequent schedule and longer travel time; in more difficult periods replacement buses have also been used.

Now, however, the long-awaited light has appeared at the end of the tunnel, and the major projects costing 74 million euros will soon be completed. “The last work on the Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski line was finished in November, so in terms of physical infrastructure, this section is now really complete,” says Urmas Leinfeld, West Harju chief project manager of Estonian Railways. “Traffic control systems are still being tested; this is why traffic lights are not working at the crossings and traffic is controlled via telephones.”

Since the trains are currently not controlled by automatic systems, the schedule is about 40 percent less frequent than usual, and the trains move very slowly at crossings. According to Leinfeld, it is the final effort. “I admit that the tests of the automatic blocking software take a damn long time. But by the end of the first quarter at the latest, everything will be ready between Tallinn and Paldiski, and the life of train passengers in the western direction will probably become better than ever in the spring,” Leinfeld promises, adding that the project still cannot be declared complete as the railway repair between Riisipere and Vasalemma continues also in the coming year.

Clear way for express trains

The biggest change in the coming year should be the addition of express trains in the Elron western lines, which are planned to be brought to service during peak hours. “Elron has been planning the use of express trains for a long time. Previously, they could not be brought to the line because all trains had to drive at essentially the same speed. This was because the trains moving in the opposite directions had to pass each other at Saue since there was only a single track between Pääsküla and Keila. The second track was completed this year,” Leinfeld explained.

According to the draft of Estonian Railways’ next year's traffic schedule, published in mid -December, Elron wants to run as many as six trains from Tallinn to Keila, between 5 pm and 6 pm on weekdays. This would be twice as many as now. Half of them would be conventional and half express trains. The high-speed train to Paldiski is planned to cover the distance in 50 minutes, while train ride from Keila to the Balti station would take 27-28 minutes.

Elron does not want to say anything definite about the plans on paper. “The upgrading of the Tallinn-Keila railway section is still underway and the timetable published on the website of Estonian Railways is therefore actually only a plan. At present, we still do not know exactly when the more frequent traffic will become possible. We definitely intend to introduce the high-speed trains, but the details (stops, travel times, specific departure times) are still subject to change,” explained Ronnie Kongo, Elron sales and development manager.

According to Leinfeld, the railway firm could introduce the express trains in the spring at the latest. The saving of time would not be only due to skipping some stops; the reconstruction will also allow to increase the speed. “In Tallinn, the maximum allowed speed in some fenced-in stretches is already 90 km/h instead of the previous 70 km/h. We also plan to increase the top speed between Pääsküla and Keila, where there are quite long straight stretches, to 140 km/h.

Previously, when only regular trains were in use, there was no point in raising the speed limit to 120 km/h, as the braking areas came up too quickly. Express trains, on the other hand, could accelerate after the Laagri curve and drive at a high speed all the way to Saue. We already have the paperwork done allowing to increase speed,” Leinfeld revealed their plans.

Tallinn could not manage

Theoretically, Elron's electric trains are capable of driving even faster – 160 km/h. “However, the distances between the stations from Tallinn to Keila are not long enough to use the maximum speed. Based on acceleration and braking convenient for the passengers – so that no one would fall down – even the most likely section between Saue and Laagri would permit 160 km/h only for a very short time. Therefore, it would not make much sense,” said Leinfeld.

While freight traffic used to impose restrictions on the railway timetables several years ago, causing a gap in the schedule at noon, this problem no longer exists. “Freight trains use this route only at night now. Thus, we could run the trains between Tallinn and Keila at five- or seven-minute intervals. The throughput capacity is no longer an issue,” says Leinfeld. At the same time, he says that a very busy schedule would bring in other factors. “Drivers want to cross the railway during the rush hour as well. If the railway crossings are closed all the time, it will cause problems in car traffic.”

One problematic spot which tends to cause jams in Tallinn due to heavy train traffic is the Tondi crossing. Yesterday, Tallinn finally announced a tender for its reconstruction with grade separation. Unfortunately, the crossing will only be built when all other western direction railway projects built by Estonian Railways are already completed.

According to Leinfeld, the construction of the Tondi crossing is also likely to be accompanied by disruption in train traffic. “It is still difficult to say how much the construction will affect passenger trains there. It can be said in greater detail only after the winner of the tender and the technology have been announced. It was mentioned during the planning that there could be three interruptions in the summer lasting up to five days.”

West Harju railway projects

Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski and Keila-Riisipere overhaul, II stage

45.2 mln euros, EU support rate 85%

2017 Q2 – 2023 Q4

Reconstruction of Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski and Keila-Riisipere (Turba) traffic control system

21.1 mln euros, EU support rate 85%

2018 Q2 – 2023 Q4

Construction of Riisipere-Turba railway stretch

7.7 mln euros

January 2018 – December 31, 2019