Baltic Transport Ministers agree on faster implementation of Rail Baltica, Vilnius-Riga passenger train planned for early 2024

The Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian Transport Ministers met in Riga on Friday to discuss relevant transport issues to the three Baltic countries. They focused on the implementation of the European gauge railway Rail Baltica and the passenger train between Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. The passenger train between Vilnius and Riga is expected to start operating at the beginning of 2024.

In Riga, Marius Skuodis, Minister of Transport and Communications of Lithuania, met with Latvia's new Transport Minister Kaspars Briškens and Estonia's new Climate Minister Kristen Michal.

'The Rail Baltica project in Lithuania is at its most mature phase today in the section from Kaunas to the Latvian border. Construction work on the main railway line is already underway and intensifying every month. Rail Baltica is a priority, so it is crucial to move swiftly from one stage of the project to the next and to launch the construction of the main line in all the three Baltic States as soon as possible,' said Mr Skuodis.

According to the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications, with the aim to build the section from Kaunas to Riga as soon as possible, Lithuania also plans to connect the Lithuanian Rail Baltica line with Poland in 2028 and to start passenger transport.

Latvian Transport Minister Kaspars Briškens stressed at the meeting that the project was a vision of a unified Baltic-European transport axis, an economic development corridor and a security pillar.

'We, the Baltic States, must show Europe that we are capable of implementing projects of this scale. We will certainly do so by working together, in the common interests of the Baltic States and Europe', said Mr Briškens.

It was noted that the additional European Union (EU) investment of almost €1 billion in 2023, of which Lithuania's share was as much as €394 million, provided a further significant boost to the development of the Rail Baltica project in the Baltic States. This is the largest funding the Baltic States have ever received from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

'Rail Baltica is the most important infrastructure project in our region and a strategic piece of the wider green reform. Its importance is now even more evident in the new security situation. We need to accelerate the pace of railway construction considering the main goal to transport passengers and freight on Rail Baltica throughout its entire length as soon as possible. Accelerating the project will also help to secure maximum funding from the current EU budget period’, said Estonian Climate Minister Mr Michal.

Mr Skuodis and his Latvian and Estonian counterparts also discussed Lithuania's initiative to launch the Vilnius-Riga-Tallinn train route before Rail Baltic is completed. Passenger trains are expected to connect Vilnius and Riga already in early 2024.

'This train will complement the route from Vilnius to Warsaw and Krakow, which was opened in December last year and has attracted a lot of interest from the public. The municipalities of northern Lithuania are showing great interest and willingness to have a passenger train operating from Vilnius to Riga via Šiauliai, and parallel discussions are underway on the resumption of train services to Daugavpils. I am confident that my colleagues and I will work together to find the best solution', said Mr Skuodis.

Lithuania hopes that the necessary agreements between the Lithuanian and Latvian companies will be concluded in the near future and that the regular Vilnius-Riga passenger train will start running in 2024.

The Vilnius-Kaunas-Warsaw-Krakow passenger train, which was launched at the end of last year, has been a great success. According to LTG Link, the total number of passengers travelling on this route in 2023 has been more than 31,000.

The Ministers also agreed at the meeting that the development of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) should be complemented by additional corridor links with Ukraine, thus ensuring the closest and most efficient transport route between Baltic ports and Ukraine. Additional links are necessary to cut transport costs and increase the competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Corridor.

Photo by: Gatis Orlickis