After that buses would replace railway lines to southern, southeastern and northeastern regions of Estonia.
According to Urmas Kukk, deputy minister at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the problem has been caused by the small amount of state subsidies the government decided to give Edelaraudtee, which is not sufficient for the railway operator.
Urmas Glase, an Edelaraudtee representative, said that according to last year's traffic statistics 140 million kroons ($8.5 million) would be a sufficient amount for the year 2001.
The ministry in its turn expects Edelaraudtee to keep all the railway lines functioning till the end of the year within the limits of this year's budget, which is 60 million kroons.
Glase said that the ministry is not willing to share its budget with Edelaraudtee.
Edelaraudtee has decided to finish passenger transport on the Tallinn-Tartu, Tallinn-Valga, Valga-Piusa, Tartu-Orava, Tartu-Jogeva and Tartu-Valga lines on March 3 and continue on the Tallinn-Viljandi and Tallinn-Parnu lines only.
According to Glase, none of the lines is profitable. Only 20 percent to 30 percent of the revenues of the railway operator come from ticket sales, said Glase. He said that Edelaraudtee had not done any calculations onhow many engine drivers should be dismissed.
The government's decision to end passenger rail traffic in south- east Estonia, and Tartu and Narva will, according to ETA, mean a loss of jobs for 70 engine drivers. A total of 200 railway workers will become redundant when the lines shut down.
The Estonian engine drivers trade unions have decided to hold a one-hour warning strike on Jan. 30 over planned cuts of railway service, which would result in a loss of jobs for them. As a result of the walkout seven Edelaraudtee trains will be halted.
The state has paid Edelaraudtee 25 million kroons for keeping up railway traffic on the above-mentioned lines for two months up to March. The rest of the 60 million-kroon budget will be spent on the reconstruction of roads in southern Estonia and development of bus routes. According to Kukk, 172 kilometers of roads have to be repaired.
"Most of the southern roads are covered with gravel, which is not satisfactory considering the density of traffic there," said Kukk.
"The subsidy to bus companies is small, but bus tickets are more expensive than railway tickets," said Kukk. He said that the four small lines operating in the region have about 2,000 daily passengers.
Negotiations between the ministry and the railway operator aren't over yet, said Glase.