Nearly all Estonians know the importance of the railway in the Estonian War of Independence (1918 's 1920). While the days of the armoured train are over, railways are still of great military significance and would have vital role in Estonian national defense in the event of a military crisis.
From the experiences of recent wars and crises, a NATO expeditionary with heavy weapons could fly in their manpower, but only a mere 5 percent of their equipment and supplies. The bulk of equipment and supplies would have to arrive by sea and move to forward positions via surface transport. Even within the small distances of Estonian territory, the railway is still the preferable means of moving heavy equipment and the mountains of supplies needed to support modern military forces.
The efficiency of rail transport, its ability for mass movement and its low fuel consumption, is a force multiplier in military logistics. All patriotic Estonians need seriously to question the motives of Edgar Savisaar and his Center Party cronies in their battle with Baltic Rail Services. Driving out EU and American investors and allowing the commercial organization of a potential adversary, notably Severstaltrans group, to gain control of railway operations is a clear recipe for disaster.
Evidence of the Center Party's true objective regarding the railways was made clear in the recent past when the Estonian Railways, principal freight operator of BRS, brought in American locomotives to replace inefficient and generally obsolete Soviet manufactured locomotives. For technically dubious reasons, Center Party politicians bitterly opposed the importation of American locomotives. The Center Party's faulty technical arguments were quickly debunked, and their politicians were forced into silly and desperate position that American locomotives had horns that were too loud and thus could not be used. Of course, horn sounds are something rectifiable with a couple turns of a wrench.
Furthermore, American locomotives horns are melodic, while Russian horns make a terrible screech. The American locomotives proved their worth, being fuel efficient and requiring low maintenance. Railways in China and Mongolia recently opted to import similar locomotives. The big losers were Russian locomotive manufacturers, who lost potential export markets.
The railway is a vital part of Estonia's strategic infrastructure, of critical importance to national security. All Estonians concerned about the future of their country should oppose Savisaar's railway machinations.
The railway situation is symptomatic of larger problems in Estonia, the politically dominant Center Party's rampant corruption and blatant disregard of national interest.
Eric A. Sibul
Institute of Railway and Transport Studies
University of York, United Kingdom