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Rail Baltica – Dream, politics or business?

The international conference Rail Baltica — Dream, politics or business? organized by TRINITY, a pan-Baltic law firm alliance, was held in Tallinn 30 November 2012. The event brought together the representatives of both private and public sectors of the Baltic States to discuss the viability of the Rail Baltica project.

Head of Cabinet of the European Commissioner for Transport Henrik Hololei noted that political support for Rail Baltica has been extensively increasing. Since the establishment of the Task Force of three Baltic countries the common principles for the spatial planning and preliminary design of the narrow gauge track have been adopted. First results of Rail Baltica Joint Venture Study initiated by the Task Force are expected by the end of 2012.

Stimulated by substantial representation of mass-media, the discussion showed that Rail Baltica is still considered as a political project in the Baltic States, and local business community regards it rather difficult to find its place in the development scenario – although the existence of business potential is acknowledged.

According to transport experts, transit cargo flows have enormous leverage in this context. Relatively low actual demand for the transport in Rail Baltica corridor is to be enhanced by getting Finnish, Russian and Chinese cargo onto Baltic rails.

Erik Laidvee from AS Transiidikeskus emphasized the importance of connecting Rail Baltica to the Algeciras port – one of the most rapidly developing projects on the Mediterranean Sea. “The Algeciras port (ES) handles the ocean container ships and is perhaps the main catalyzer of the whole process”, Mr Laidvee stated.

CEO of Estonian Railways Ahti Asmann summarized the business view:“Though entrepreneurs call Rail Baltica a political project, it does not automatically mean that they are not interested in it”.

Finnish standpoints were presented by RBGC project manager Malla Paajanen. Besides political support by Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland, Finland’s business sector also shows the interest in implementation of Rail Baltica. Especially the forest industry seeks new export routes in the light of upcoming sulphur regulation, which will significantly raise the costs for sea cargo shipping.

In addition to political and business perspectives Ms Paajanen underlined the University sector’s role and triple helix cooperation in Rail Baltica process: “It is topical to connect the research work being conducted in different countries with political decision-making structures”.

EC voice was delivered by Adviser to the Rail Baltica project in European Commission James Pond who listed some points essential for the successful implementation of Rail Baltica. From the EC perspective the building bricks are, amongst others, fidelity to the “Green Corridor” principles, new employment opportunities and functional 2 gauge system. Moreover, the need of stability of national decision making, joint management of rail network across national borders and strategic Rail Baltica branding and marketing were recognized.

The conference materials are available here