Trains become endangered species

  • 2001-03-01
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Hundreds of people protested in front of government buildings in the town of Toompea on Feb. 21 against the Estonian government's plans to cut passenger transportation, which would also lead to the dismissal of 228 employees.

The Ministry of Road and Communications decided that passenger services would continue on the Tallinn-Parnu, Tallinn-Viljandi and Tallinn-Tartu-Valga routes, while four smaller lines in the southeastern region of Estonia and the Tallinn-Narva route would be closed.

According to Kuldar Vaarsi, a ministry spokesman, trains would run on the Tallinn-Tartu line only once a day and on the Tartu-Valga line on Fridays and Sundays. Until the end of February, trains will be running as planned - three times a day on the Tallinn-Tartu line and once to Valga.

At first there were plans to close the Tallinn-Tartu-Valga route completely, but then it was agreed to continue operating with funds provided by the ministry - 8.1 million kroons ($466,000) - until the end of the year.

At the start of January, the state paid Edelaraudtee, the company running the services, 25 million kroons to keep all railways running until the beginning of March.

The rest of the 60 million kroon budget initially meant to subsidize this year's passenger transportation, but not enough for Edelaraudtee, would be spent on the reconstruction of roads and supporting the establishment of new bus routes.

Tartu county has already announced that 30 new bus trips and two new routes are being added to the schedule.

Vaarsi said that bus tickets are a little more expensive than train tickets, but that subsidies for the bus companies are a lot smaller. A train ticket on the Tartu-Elva route costs 8 kroons, while a bus ticket costs 4 kroons more. Transport by rail costs 3 kroons per kilometer while by bus it is only half a kroon.

Vaarsi also said that in southern Estonia revenues from ticket sales cover only 2 percent of the cost of rail transportation, while on average in the rest of the country the figure is about 20 percent.

"So if this business were based on market economy principles, train tickets would be 50 times higher than they are today," said Vaarsi. He also said that bus depots would be much closer to passengers than train stations are nowadays.

He believes that buses are not more polluting than the trains, which date from the 1970s. Right now, almost 2,000 people use the Tallinn-Narva, Tallinn-Tartu and other southeastern train routes.

The government's decision to end passenger services on the railways would, according to Vaarsi, mean a loss of 228 jobs and cost 10 million kroons in compensation, which would have to be paid by Edelaraudtee. He said that the ministries are working on a program to train laid-off personnel for new jobs.

"There is a large demand for engineers in Tartu, for example," said Vaarsi. Engine drivers who fear for their jobs held a work stoppage action on Jan. 30 at Tallinn's central railway station.