Amber Train is back on track, this time with new potential

Image: Raul Mee, OperailRaul Mee/Operail

The Amber Train is back on track. On Tuesday 13 September, a train loaded with timber, peat and construction foam left the Estonian port of Muuga. On Wednesday morning, it arrived in Kaunas Multimodal Terminal in Lithuania. The new service provides a railway bridge between Scandinavia and Western Europe.

The revival of the Amber Train comes at a time when the Baltic countries lost a lot of their usual market share. Rail freight to and from Russia has been significantly reduced, which has downplayed the transit potential of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Amber Train gives this potential new impetus. In Estonia the service connects to short-sea services to Finland, while southbound cargo is destined for countries in Western Europe.

“The Amber Train creates a connection between Northern and Western Europe. It provides an additional opportunity to develop freight transport that does not depend on Russia,” comments Riina Sikkut, Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure of Estonia.

Image: Raul Mee/Operail

Test ride

The train that departed on Tuesday is a test ride. “We’ll see how the loading of goods, border operations and the exchanging of documents and data function”, explained Raul Toomsalu, Chairman of the Management Board at AS Operail, which operates the service. “This time, we moved from roads to rails some timber material, peat and construction foam, which we are transporting for our clients to Lithuania.”

In Kaunas, the semi-trailers were loaded onto flat wagons with European rail gauge, and the journey continued towards Western Europe. The Amber Train wagons, however, were loaded with new goods and taken back to Muuga port, where the trailers will be loaded onto a ship that takes them to Finland.

DB Schenker the first customer

Scheduled rides on the Muuga-Kaunas-Muuga route will be offered twice a week. When exactly the scheduled rides begin, depends on the results of the test ride. “This will happen as soon as possible, as customers are already expressing their interest”, Toomsalu said.

One of the customers on the test ride was DB Schenker. According to Janek Saareoks, CEO of Schenker Baltics, two bulky shipments were loaded by Schenker onto the first train departing from Muuga, one headed towards France and the other towards the Netherlands.

“Our ambition is to create a regular and busy transport corridor to Central Europe and back to Estonia. A train is a considerably more environmentally friendly means of transport, and furthermore, the new solution will help to alleviate the problems created by the chronic lack of truck drivers in the sector,” said Saareoks.

The potential

Potential clients of the Amber Train include companies that wish to export their goods from Nordic countries or Estonia to Western Europe and vice versa. Until now, goods transported by sea from Finland to Estonia, as well as goods transported from Estonia, have moved through the Baltic States mostly on trucks. The Amber Train aims to bring these goods onto the railway.

It is however not the first time the project was launched. The service was established in 2018, on the route between Šestokai on Lithuania’s border with Poland, Riga and Tallinn .Gradually, the service lost some of its momentum and became less popular since companies were focusing on other opportunities.

However, the cards on the table have been reshuffled, and the need for a transit route not relying on Russia is more pronounced today. The Amber Train project is particularly relevant for Estonia at a time where trade flows and transport corridors in the world are being reshaped, as the minister explained.

The partners

The Amber Train is a cooperation project between the Baltic countries, led by AS Operail. The cooperation partners include Estonian Railways, Latvian and Lithuanian rail freight transport companies LDZ Cargo and LTG Cargo, loading terminals HHLA TK Estonia in Muuga and Kaunas Intermodal Terminal in Lihtuania.

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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