According to the current plan, a passenger train will start running between the southern Estonian town of Tartu and the Latvian capital Riga next year, the Estonian Ministry of Climate has allocated 300,000 euros from next year’s state budget to launch the line, the regional Tartu Postimees writes.
Climate Minister Kristen Michal said that the project has been discussed in cooperation with the City of Tartu and the push was the city’s desire to open a new train route during the city’s European Capital of Culture year. The minister added that with 300,000 euros it would be possible to start one train between Tartu and Riga next year. The technical side concerning the launch of the line is within the competence of passenger train operator Elron.
“The longer term plan is to have a more permanent connection between Tartu and Riga, but right now we can only talk about next year,” he said.
Elron CEO Lauri Betlem said the company has started researching whether and how it would be possible to launch such a route. It covers a wide spectrum of issues, from the certification of the train drivers and the Stadler FLIRT diesel trains, which currently run on Estonian railways, on the Latvian railways to the suitability of the infrastructure for Elron trains.
“The Latvian authorities have been contacted to start the process and consultations are ongoing regarding the possibility of the route,” Betlem added.
It is not yet known when and at what interval the Tartu-Riga train will start operating. Betlem added that there is a lot of uncertainty in the current preparatory phase and it is too early to speculate on this topic.
“Elron carries out transport according to the wishes of the state, that is the owner, and the possibilities of the train fleet, so the period and frequency depend primarily on the order and available rolling stock,” he said.
The Tartu city government has been negotiating the Tartu-Riga train line for years. Mayor Urmas Klaas said that in the context of the upcoming European Capital of Culture year, the establishment of a Tartu-Riga train connection is crucial and the city government will also do everything possible to help.
“I have told Elron’s representatives that the optimal time to launch train traffic would be the beginning of the tourist season, that is summer,” Klaas said, adding that the Tartu-Riga train connection should continue even after the Capital of Culture year.
According to Klaas, the main issue when it comes to the launch of the Tartu-Riga train line is the quality of the service and a suitable route schedule.
“The timetable is important for the passenger, so that the departure times meet people’s needs, that the train is faster than, for example, the bus, that the train is modern,” he added.
The optimal train ride from Tartu to Riga could last less than 3.5 hours. As for funding, the mayor currently does not see that the opening of a new line should be subsidized from the budget of the city of Tartu.
“International train traffic must be the responsibility of the central governments,” Klaas said.
He cited the construction of Rail Baltic as an example, the city of Parnu does not have to contribute to its operation.
The climate minister said that in addition to the opening of the Tartu-Riga train line, negotiations are underway with representatives of the Latvian and Lithuanian governments to extend the line from Tallinn to Vilnius. So that, in addition to Rail Baltic, more cities would have a connection with their southern neighbors.
“This topic came up at the meeting held in Riga the week before last,” Michal said.
He added that this is only a preliminary plan and it was jointly agreed that the issue will be seriously pursued this year and next year.
“Everything depends on the cooperation between countries, but I reckon they are serious about it,” Michal said.
According to Lithuania’s plan, a passenger train could travel from Vilnius to Tallinn via Siauliai, Riga, Valga and Tartu. In this case, the length of the trip would be a little over nine hours.
“We took note of this and hope for further good cooperation regarding the continuation of the project,” Michal said.
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