Rail Baltica mainline construction takes off in Latvia

Image: Rail Baltica

Latvia is commencing construction works on the Rail Baltica mainline. The Rail Baltica team and its international partners gathered in Riga to mark the occasion, but uncertainty remains about the final shape Rail Baltica will take.

The construction of the 230-kilometre Latvian mainline will take place in stages. Initially, Rail Baltica will be working on an infrastructure maintenance facility near the city of Iecava. It explains that infrastructure maintenance facilities will function as logistic bases throughout the Rail Baltica construction process. They are supposed to aid the construction of connections to the existing 1520 mm track network and maximise the use of the railway for transporting construction materials and machinery.

In a reaction to the start of construction works, Latvian transport minister Kaspars Briškens praised Rail Baltica: “The significance of the Rail Baltica project in ensuring a fast and reliable connection for the Baltic region with Western Europe is particularly high in the current geopolitical conditions. The delivery of our shared ambition is to ensure a cross-border connection during the first phase of the Rail Baltica project by 2030, including the integration of Riga. Thus, the construction of the mainline is a top priority.”

What shape will Rail Baltica take?

While the construction of Rail Baltica in Latvia has now started, the integration of Riga, as mentioned by the Latvian minister, is not yet set in stone. Growing estimated construction costs have hampered the rail project, forcing the Baltic states to readjust their ambitions in order to cut costs.

In this respect, the Baltics need to take the EU’s wishes into consideration. The EU is set to finance 85 per cent of Rail Baltica and wants to see tangible results. To secure funding, the Baltic states will need to adhere to Brussels’ wish of completing the mainline first and foremost.

In order to stay within budgetary limits and meet the EU’s expectations, the three countries may have to make amendments to the original plan. This may involve reducing maximum speeds, delaying a connection to Riga, and bypassing Vilnius. While construction in Latvia may have now started, the final form of Rail Baltica is yet to be determined.

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Author: Dennis van der Laan

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