Thursday, April 22, 2010

RLY Baltica

The ash cloud seems to have dispersed enough for life in Europe to resume as normal. Meanwhile, local politicians are talking about Rail Baltica again.

Now, I'm a big fan of high-speed rail. In Western Europe, it is the most comfortable way of covering long distances. Certainly a Eurostar, Thalys or ICE train between major cities will take as much time as a flight - considering that airports are far out of town and you have to spend a lot of time on security procedures - and it's just far more pleasant. You even get a nice view. Trains are actually often more expensive on these routes, but again, no travel to the airport, and overall I think it's worth the premium. In any case, if there is more demand for rail travel, prices are likely to go down.

So I would absolutely love it if Estonia had a railhead capable of supporting a bullet train all the way into Berlin. Even between Tallinn and Tartu, the express train is a better experience in most ways: a first-class ticket costs the same as the bus, but you get free tea and coffee, better access to power sockets, and a smoother ride. The express train only has two downsides: one, there aren't enough of them in a day - which makes it hard for them to compete with buses that run every half hour; and two, the Tartu train station is very inconveniently placed. The bus station in Tallinn isn't completely central either, but it's still less of a hassle than the train terminus on this end.

Estonia is actually making a useful effort at improving its rail infrastructure, the government is saying that trains will run at 120km/h all the way down to the Latvian border next year. But are we really desperate for a high-speed link down through Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw?

There's always Stockholm.

Apparently Stockholm to Copenhagen is a five-hour journey, with pretty frequent departures. From there it's a night train to Cologne, which is a major hub for ICE and Thalys (the German and French fast train networks respectively). Take the Tallink night ferry to Stockholm, and you can be in London within a day of disembarking.

Yes, it's a lot slower than air travel. But it's a lot faster than driving down through Poland. And the opportunity is already there.

In fact, now I kinda want to try it!


Vincent said...

Now I'm also a big fan of high-speed rail and I agree that taking the train between Tartu and Tallinn is fairly comfortable in first class, but saying it's "smoother ride"? It's fine for reading, but it's impossible to type anything on the laptop so much it's shaking.

antyx said...

Not smooth, smoother. I can't even read on the bus, I get seasick. The train's first-class carriage has these tiny tables that kinda suck for typing on a laptop, but it's still better.

Ain Kendra said...

Would you join in Facebook to Pro Rail Baltica group? I need there fresh ideas and support...

antyx said...

Sure. I still like the idea of Rail Baltica, I just think it's not vital and unlikely.

Ain Kendra said...

Well, Rail Baltica is actually 3-step move for Estonia.
1) current track 120 km/h on full length (still people prefer bus from Tallinn to Berlin, only night train can be competitive, but full Tallinn-Berlin takes too much time). Maybe within 5 years completed.
2) current track 160 km/h on full length (takes over the bus-riders as will be faster also on old lines). Maybe with 10 years completed.
3) new track 200 km/h on EU rail width, hopefully on full length
I see that first step is realistic and ER works on it. Second step will come after that, after also Tapa-Tartu is upgraded. Most questionable is the last but only this provides competitiveness with the flying. Needs 20 years. I think so.

antyx said...

There's no reason why it couldn't be done technically, but it's a huge investment that will be very hard to justify to the EU.

Ain Kendra said...

Concerning to the first two phases I see no reason why not. Only questionable is the third phase. Actually I would prefer to start the third ASAP and maybe not do the 2nd.
And the need for railway will also be justified with Icelandic economical ash. In case, if volcano continues not with one week but several years, then all air passagers are also using trains.

Ain Kendra said...

Justification comes with icelandic ash. If the volcano works for few years and we'll manage without air traffic, RB will be done. And faster than we think.


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