Central train station to turn European

  • 2002-11-28
  • Aleksei Gunter

Baltic Station (Balti jaam), the central train station of the Estonian capital, set just a hundred meters away from the national government residence, used to be a seedy place where anyone could easily "lose" his wallet. After partial renovation of the area and removal of some dirty kiosks several years ago, the station still looks rather provincial and dreary. It is, as before, full of beggars.

Edelaraudtee (Southwestern Railway), the passenger train operator, intends to turn Baltic Station into a European-style station with a hotel and other services to suit passengers' needs.

Located between the historical Old Town and Kopli district, which primarily consists of old wooden houses, the station's two-wing building hosts three low-end cafes, several small shops, a currency exchange, casino and food-and-clothes market. However, the tourist bus routes that connect the passenger sea port, the airport and Viru Square, the center for accomodation and shopping, do not stop off at Baltic Station.

Renovation is to start next year. According to Neddy Kramer, head of Southwestern Railway's asset management branch, the project will cost the company from 60 million kroons (4 million euros) to 70 million kroons.

"This is a preliminary assessment because we are now at the very beginning of this project," said Kramer.

He said Southwestern Railway is now negotiating with Estonian's department for protection of national heritage since part of Baltic Station's last reconstruction in the 1950s has historical value.

"There are some fans of modern architecture in the department, and we basically agree that some Soviet-style things must be preserved [at the station]," said Kramer.

Southwestern Railway will likely have to borrow funds to carry out the project, he said.

If everything goes smoothly, then in May 2003 Southwest Railway, the current owner of station territory, will receive the necessary construction permit and the work will start in the summer.

Kramer stated the new station complex will not have anything extraordinary.

"Our top priority is an appropriate and modern railway station," he said, adding that the once famous restaurant on the station's second floor will open its doors again. A hotel and parking lot are also necessary because the company hopes passenger traffic on Tallinn-Moscow and Tallinn-St.Petersburg routes will increase in the near future.

Southwestern Railway will also launch an express train that will include some upper class cars on the Tallinn-Tartu route in December, and plans to build guarded parking lots next to Tartu and Tallinn train stations where train passengers could leave their cars for free.

A private company operating five passenger and two cargo routes within Estonia, Southwestern Railways is suffering from lack of working capital. It receives donations from the government just to keep passenger trains running.

From 2001 to 2009, the company will receive 939.6 million kroons from the state.

In August 2002 Southwestern Railway trains carried approximately 150,000 people, a 25 percent increase compared with last year. From January to September the company served over 1 million passengers.