ON LINE: An agreement has been reached to include Vilnius on the high-speed rail route.
VILNIUS - At tripartite negotiations on the project Rail Baltica joint venture shareholders agreement, held at the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Lithuania between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, an agreement was reached: essentially, Vilnius will be part of the trans-European Rail Baltica gauge route, the Transport Ministry of Lithuania said in a statement, reports LETA.
“I am pleased that the delegates discussed not whether Vilnius should be incorporated in the project, but rather how the capital of Lithuania should become part of it. I am convinced that the meeting of the prime ministers of the Baltic States held in Tallinn and a favorable position expressed by the new prime minister of Latvia had a positive impact on this issue,” said Minister of Transport and Communications Rimantas Sinkevicius.
According to the minister, Lithuania appreciates the fact that, during the first official visit in Lithuania, Prime Minister of Latvia Laimdota Straujuma expressed support for Lithuania’s aim to build the European standard gauge Rail Baltica with Vilnius being part of it.
“The issue of integrating Vilnius into the project Rail Baltica is being tackled. Estonia’s delegation proposed a compromise on how to do it technically. The negotiations will be continued in Tallinn at the beginning of March. An agreement was reached also on some other parts of the project; therefore, the list of discussable questions is getting shorter, and we are getting very close to establishing a joint venture,” said Director of Development and International Relations Department Arenijus Jackus.
Currently, the three Baltic States are negotiating the establishment of a joint venture that will coordinate the implementation of the second part of the project Rail Baltica - a railway gauge from Kaunas to Tallinn. To apply for EU funding for this part of the project, an application should be submitted by 2016. Lithuania seeks to connect all the Baltic States’ capitals with the trans-European gauge.
However, further implementation of rail project will require the purchase of land parcels, which will need special regulations adopted to introduce a uniform mechanism of compensation to landlords, Latvian Transport Minister Anrijs Matiss said in an interview with Latvian State Radio on Feb. 26.
Currently it is often impossible to come to terms with landlords when certain land plots have to be bought for reconstruction of highways, and this often results in lengthy legal disputes. Land areas that belong to Latvijas dzelzcels’ railroad company will also be used for the project, Matiss added.
Rail Baltica will have train stops only in downtown Riga and Riga International Airport, he reiterated. For cargo trains, a railroad bypassing downtown will be built following a technical analysis to determine the best route for it.
The railroad connecting downtown Riga with Riga Airport could be built by 2020 at the earliest, he added.
Two weeks ago, a statement at the Procurement Monitoring Bureau’s website said that the technical analysis and assessment of the impact on the environment of Rail Baltica in Latvia would be carried out by the association of Konstruktionsgruppe Bauen Latvija, Grupa 93, EPG Eisenbahn und Bauplanungs - Geselschaft mbH Erfurt. The amount of the contract is 3.9 million euros.
The Rail Baltica project deals with construction of a new 1,435 millimeter standard-gauge railroad through the Baltic countries. The implementation of project could cost 1.27 billion euros to Latvia and 3.68 billion euros to the Baltic States altogether. The European Commission could co-fund 85 percent of the project’s costs. The request for funding will be submitted to the European Commission in 2015, so construction of the railroad could begin in 2016. Further funding for the project is to be provided as part of the next financial period that will begin in 2020.
Confirming Vilnius’ importance
On Feb. 28, Minister Sinkevicius attended a meeting of the Economics, Energy and Innovation Committee of the Baltic Assembly in Riga and presented the goals and the expectations of the Lithuanian government related to the second stage of the railway project.
“The project Rail Baltica is the largest and most expensive transport infrastructure project since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. There is no doubt that this project will have a long-term economic, social, strategic and financial impact on the future of our country. As a result, it is a priority for Lithuania,” said Sinkevicius.
He highlighted Lithuania’s goals and expectations related to the second stage of the project.
“Lithuania seeks that the new high-speed European railway through the country’s territory would be on the route that is most beneficial and efficient for the country’s economy. One of the key issues is the integration of Vilnius city into the Rail Baltica. The biggest part [40 percent] of Lithuania’s gross domestic product is created in this region.
“The integration of Vilnius city in the project is important for Lithuania taking into consideration the country’s economic interests; however, I am sure that the connection of the capitals of the Baltic States would be beneficial for the whole project,” said Sinkevicius.