Inappropriate symbolism

  • 2006-11-01
  • by Edward A. Burkhardt
I was very disappointed with reporting on last week's front-page story, "Government re-nationalizes Estonian Railway." While the article, which covered disputes between the current Estonian government and the private owners of Eesti Raudtee (Baltic Rail Services), as well as the government's current movement to re-nationalize the railway, is worthy of detailed analysis by the press, the picture of a passenger train that derailed after hitting a truck at a road crossing and the article's statement that the incident was "symbolic of the failed process of privatizing the nation's railways" is completely inaccurate and misleading.

The accident occurred on a line that has been fully upgraded in the last year on infrastructure in excellent condition. It was caused solely by negligence of the truck driver, and not by an "intoxicated train driver," as reported. The rail operator involved, Edelaraudtee, is in no way associated with Eesti Raudtee other than operating on Eesti Raudtee's tracks.

Rather than being legitimately compared with (or blamed for) such an accident, the privatization of Eesti Raudtee has been highly successful by any objective measure. The crux of the dispute between BRS and government involves track access changes that were arbitrarily established by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications well below cost, and at financially unsustainable levels. No company, regardless of ownership, can maintain its property without the cash to cover its costs, a situation that caused the private owners to seek to exit their investment.

The government has its own reasons to favor the Russian train operating companies who now use Eesti Raudtee's infrastructure at less than cost, and in favoring re-nationalization. But your loose commentary on the results of the privatization, and by linking this with a serious locomotive accident caused by a truck driver, you're consideration of the railway's future is a bit too objective. I am very disappointed with The Baltic Times.

Edward A. Burkhardt, Chairman - Supervisory Board BRS and Eesti Raudtee

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