Plans for an ambitious railway project that could one day link Berlin with Helsinki by rail, connecting all three Baltic capitals, has moved one step closer to becoming a reality after Latvian public approval for the project has been secured.
Since the initial public discussion about the Rail Baltica European-standard gauge railway in March this year, the public opinion has been turned around and the local population and municipalities have come to approve of the proposed route, Neils Balgalis, a spatial planning expert of RB Latvija, the company working on the layout of the new railway, told the press on Tuesday.
He said that in spring 10 municipalities had approved of the Rail Baltica but by now all 15 municipalities to be crossed by the new railway line have given their consent to the planned route.
Speaking about the alterations made to the proposed route, he said the number of properties to be affected by Rail Baltica had been reduced to 1,000 from initial 2,000. From April to November this year the developers made over 130 field trips and talked to the local residents, whose properties would be affected. Over 600 replies were sent to emails and over 430 telephone inquiries answered.
Nearly 1,000 people attended public discussions on Rail Baltica in November and 5,000 participated in the meetings in March. “As a result, we as the developers have reached an agreement with the local population and municipalities about the layout of the rail tracks,” Balgalis said.
There has also been constructive cooperation with state-owned stakeholders such as Latvijas Dzelzcels railway company, Latvijas Valsts Celi road management company, and Latvijas Vaksts Mezi forest manager.
The environmental impact assessment report on Rail Baltica was prepared by more than 30 experts. The report on several thousand pages (including addenda) provides answers to the questions raised during the initial discussion and received in 600 letters, said Evita Brante, an expert with Estonian, Latvian & Lithuanian Environment company.
The report, updated with proposals by people and municipalities, will be submitted to the Latvian State Environmental Bureau (VPVB) which is to produce its opinion about the document in the first quarter of next year. The municipalities are expected to formally approve the layout of the rail tracks in March 2016.
Properties will be expropriated and construction designs developed between 2017 and 2019, and construction is to begin in 2020. The Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas line is to be constructed by 2025 and the connection to Warsaw is to be built by 2030, Balgalis said.
The public discussion of the environmental impact assessment report on the would-be European-standard gauge railway line Rail Baltica was held in 15 Latvian municipalities through which the rail tracks are to be build from Nov. 11 to Dec. 11.
The Rail Baltica II project for construction of a European-standard gauge railway seeks to re-establish a direct connection between the Baltic States and the European railway network. The project is expected to facilitate regional integration by means of a railway link from Helsinki that would link Tallinn, Riga, Kaunas, Warsaw, and Berlin and might potentially be extended to Venice.