THE transport ministers of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have agreed to study the introduction of a broad-gauge passenger service linking the three capitals ahead of the opening of the standard-gauge Rail Baltica high-speed line, which is currently under construction.

There are currently no through passenger services between the three countries despite the existence of 1520mm-gauge lines crossing the borders. The line from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Riga, Latvia, follows a fairly direct route, while line north from Riga to the Estonian capital, Tallinn, takes a more circuitous route through Valga and Tartu in eastern Estonia.

“Such a train would be a natural complement to the train service from Vilnius to Warsaw and Krakow, which launched in December 2022,” says Lithuania’s transport minister, Mr Marius Skuodis. “This passenger train, which would create a link between the Baltic capitals before the completion of the Rail Baltica project, means not only an increase in travel options for the population, but also a contribution to the development of environmentally friendly rail transport.”

Skuodis was optimistic that the new service could be introduced in the near future, but acknowledged that it would require the agreement of all the Baltic States.

“Modern transport infrastructure is one of the key factors for strengthening economic ties, which is why the completion of the Rail Baltica project is our top geopolitical and economic priority,” says Estonia’s transport minister, Ms Riina Sikkut. “However, while Rail Baltica is under construction, we could consider transporting passengers on the existing Vilnius - Riga - Tallinn route.”

The ministers also agreed at their meeting in Tallinn on January 23 to speed up the implementation of the Rail Baltica project. Skuodis said Lithuania will try to complete its part of the project as early as possible and to establish the link with Poland by 2028. “Lithuania’s goal is to have most of the work on the European gauge railway to Panevėžys [in northern Lithuania] completed by 2024 and to be ready for construction on all other sections,” Skuodis said.

At the beginning of this year, the three Baltic states and the RB Rail joint venture applied to the European Union for €1.15bn in additional funding for the Rail Baltica project.