TALLINN - Last week, it emerged that confusion over the launch of the Tartu-Riga passenger train has reached a new phase as Latvia is offering its diesel locomotives and wagons for the route and, if the conditions are right, would be ready to send a train from Valga to Tartu right away, but the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is not even aware of the information provided by Latvia, the regional Tartu Postimees writes.
Taavi Audo, adviser at the public relations department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that after the news item published in Tartu Postimees last week, their officials turned to the Tartu city government to get acquainted with the analyzes and proposals referred to in the article. "When the materials reach us, we can start commenting on the topic," he said.
Audo added that if Latvia is prepared to contribute with its rolling stock, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications wants to see a concrete proposal indicating, among other things, which trains would be used to operate the route, the quality of the service, the timetable and its compliance with actual demand, the expected cost of the service and the need for state aid. "We also assume that the representatives of the city of Tartu can assess the demand and that is enough to start the trains," Audo said.
However, according to Tartu Postimees, skepticism has not disappeared. Thus, when talking about occupancy, Audo brought the Tartu-Riga bus route for comparison, which, according to the ministry, has been less than a third full in the last six months. He also emphasized that the railway does not pass through the airport in Riga, which is why those travelling to Riga Airport would still have to use the bus or car for a part of the journey.
In order to make talk of the Riga-Tartu train more concrete than before, the Tartu city government has recently tried to take control of this issue more and more vigorously. Mayor Urmas Klaas explained that the first goal is to launch the passenger train in 2024 at the latest, when Tartu will hold the title of European Capital of Culture. "Our twin city Riga could then serve as a good gateway to Tartu as the European Capital of Culture," Klaas added.
To ensure that the matter does not remain merely on the level of correspondence between officials and that is will also be dealt with substantively in the government, Klaas and Estonian Railways CEO Kaido Zimmermann will hold a meeting on the Riga-Tartu train route with Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas next week.
The conditions, the possible timetable and also the cost of maintaining the route, that is who should subsidize the route and in what respect, will be discussed. "We can talk about these things in greater detail only after the meeting," Klaas said.
He emphasized that the train connection must be of high quality and have a timetable that meets the needs of the passengers -- this is what the occupancy rate of the trains depends on.
Among other things, the Estonian and Latvian partners need to determine what the future prospects of the route would be.
Last week, the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications announced that the opening of the train route would be hampered, among other things, by the fact that the development plans of the Estonian and Latvian railway networks are very different.
The Estonian side pointed out that efforts are being made here to ensure that the entire railway network is electrified in 2028, while the southern neighbors are not doing this. It has now become more widely known that Latvia also plans to electrify its railways. The goal is set for 2040, but investments on the Riga-Valga route should bear fruit sooner.
Maris Kleinbergs, chairman of Latvian railway infrastructure manager Latvijas dzelzcels, has told reporters that electric trains on the Valga route could start operating in 2035. Meanwhile, electric trains in Estonia should reach Valka already in 2026.
The parties involved have promised additional clarity on the possibility of a Tartu-Riga train next week.