Governments around the world are investing in public transport to reduce car use and create a greener world. And now Eastern Europe is going all in on the rail infrastructure project Rail Baltica.
Rail Baltica aims to integrate the Baltic states into the European rail network. It is one of Europe’s most substantial investments to improve mobility and travel opportunities, and is the largest infrastructure project in the Baltic region in the last 100 years.
The project involves five countries of the European Union: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and indirectly Finland. It will connect Helsinki, Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevežys, Kaunas, Vilnius and Warsaw.
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But it is more than the construction of a railway line: it is a platform for connectivity that offers enormous economic growth, cross-border innovation, digitization and community development opportunities.
Rail Baltica brings countries together by building missing cross-border connections. Over a 10-year construction period, the project will span 870 km of rail lines and include the construction of seven intentional passenger stations and three freight stations.
Building a sustainable future of transport
What is also important is that the project is sustainable. Electric trains will run at speeds of 249 km/h (passengers), 120 km/h (freight). Unfortunately, there are no maglev trains here, which usually run above 400 km/h. But something is better than nothing.
Still, there may be an opportunity to retrofit a Polish company in the future from Nevomo hyperloop-inspired MagRail technology. It avoids protected environmental areas and includes noise barriers and special animal passages.
And it’s not just cross-border trains. A commitment to multimodal mobility is embedded in the Rail Baltica project. It includes train, state and municipal buses, private vehicles and electric vehicles, e-scooters and e-bikes, which will be connected regionally.
This is a huge opportunity for mobile startups. As well as very successful Bolt (Estonia), including tricycle manufacturers Akko Trike (Lithuania) and Estonia Auve Tech (Estonia), who make autonomous shuttles. Also be relevant bikeep (Estonia), builders of parking stations and lockers for micromobility, and software makers for sharing platforms Atomic Mobility (Latvia).
But despite the potential of the project, the location alone poses a series of challenges.
The railway transformation challenge
Transforming rail in the Baltic Sea does not come cheap, with a total cost estimated at €5.8 billion, with 85% of the costs funded by the European Union, with the rest covered by Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
In addition, the war in Ukraine has not only increased the cost of fuel, but also other building materials. In addition, goods scheduled to arrive from Russia and Belarus cannot be obtained due to sanctions, requiring more expensive imports from other countries.
An important wartime project
Rail transport has always been an important resource for countries like Ukraine, and the current geopolitical circumstances have increased the strategic importance of the Rail Baltica project, both in terms of imports and exports, as material shortages can cripple national economies.
Rail Baltica will contribute to the security of the Baltic states by establishing rail links with their allies in Europe and improving military logistics across the region.
In August, the EU awarded the Latvian government EU funding for the first time to purposefully develop transport infrastructure to serve both civilian and military needs. Latvian Vice President Dr. Roberts Zīle said that the allocation of military mobility “is no longer discreetly obscured, as it was in the past”.
The freight rail will be of crucial importance in the safe and rapid transport of military goods and materials. Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits sees reliable connectivity with Western Europe as crucial “to enhance our country’s defense capabilities”.
Construction of Rail Baltica is set to commence from 2026 to 2030. This project will be beset by challenges, but the long-term benefits it will bring will be abundant. For startups, companies and people, it will make Europe a smaller, more connected place – and change the continent for the better.