Latvian railway

Standard gauge in all of EU, plans need to be ready by 2025-2026

Image: Wikimedia Commons. Jānis Vilniņš

Every state member of the European Union will need to have a transformation plan to adopt the 1435 mm railway gauge by 2025-2026. This was the outcome of a meeting involving the ministers of transport of EU countries held in Brussels on 5 December.

The European Commission proposed this summer that all new rail connections to be built as part of the European transport network (TEN-T) should conform to the European standard rail gauge. The European standard track gauge has a width of 1,435 mm. Several other countries in Eastern Europe have tracks with a wider gauge of 1,520 mm: the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Resistance

Latvia responded to the new deadline in saying that it will need help from the EU. The Latvian minister of transport Talis Linkaits highlighted the role of the TEN-T project in ensuring the proper investments in missing sections of the network, but stressed the importance of receiving help from other member states. “We see that the available funding from EU funds is not sufficient to achieve the ambitious environmental goals and transport network infrastructure requirements”, he added.

In August, Finland even rejected the proposal to adopt to normal gauge. “Finland does not accept these changes to the rail gauge, and I believe that our views will be heard during further discussions”, Finland’s Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka responded to the initial idea. He said that changing the rail gauge in Finland would not be economically or operationally feasible.

Significantly relevant for Baltic states

The directive is part of the TEN-T project and mainly addresses the Baltic countries. In these countries, the wide gauge lines mostly concern the railway lines to Russia. However, as Linkaits pointed out, “under the influence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the transport connections with Russia and Belarus are canceled. On the other hand, with the RailBaltica project, the implementation of the European gauge is already in the plans.

It is noteworthy to add that thanks to the TEN-T project, Baltic states are included in the so-called North Sea-Baltic Corridor. This corridor will connect the Baltic Sea region with the countries of the North Sea region. It will run through Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany, Poland, and then north through the Baltic States.

Author: Marco Raimondi

Marco Raimondi is an editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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