The Tartu-Riga train line expected to start operating in 2024

According to the current plan, a passenger train will start running between the southern Estonian town of Tartu and the Latvian capital Riga next year; the Estonian climate ministry has allocated €300,000 from next year’s state budget to launch the line, the regional Tartu Postimees writes.

The country’s climate minister, Kristen Michal, said the project had been discussed in cooperation with the Town of Tartu and the push was the town’s desire to open a new train route during its European Capital of Culture year. The minister added that with €300,000, it would be possible to start one train between Tartu and Riga next year. The technical side concerning the launch of the line is within the competence of passenger train operator Elron.

“The longer-term plan is to have a more permanent connection between Tartu and Riga, but right now we can only talk about next year,” he said.

The CEO of Elron, Lauri Betlem, said the company had started researching whether and how it would be possible to launch such a route. It covers a wide spectrum of issues, from the certification of the train drivers and the Stadler FLIRT diesel trains, which currently run on Estonian railways, on the Latvian railways to the suitability of the infrastructure for Elron trains.

“The Latvian authorities have been contacted to start the process and consultations are ongoing regarding the possibility of the route,” Betlem added.

Tartu train station. Photo by Phil Richards, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED licence.

A crucial train connection

It is not yet known when and at what interval the Tartu-Riga train will start operating. Betlem added there was a lot of uncertainty in the current preparatory phase and it was too early to speculate on this topic.

“Elron carries out transport according to the wishes of the state, that is the owner, and the possibilities of the train fleet, so the period and frequency depend primarily on the order and available rolling stock,” he said.

The Tartu town government has been negotiating the Tartu-Riga train line for years. Mayor Urmas Klaas said that, in the context of the upcoming European Capital of Culture year, the establishment of a Tartu-Riga train connection is crucial and the town government will also do everything possible to help.

“I have told Elron’s representatives that the optimal time to launch train traffic would be the beginning of the tourist season, that is summer,” Klaas said, adding that the Tartu-Riga train connection should continue even after the Capital of Culture year.

An aerial view of the old town of Riga, Latvia.

Extending the train line from Tallinn to Vilnius

According to Klaas, the main issue when it comes to the launch of the Tartu-Riga train line is the quality of the service and a suitable route schedule.

“The timetable is important for the passenger, so that the departure times meet people’s needs, that the train is faster than, for example, the bus, that the train is modern,” he added.

The optimal train ride from Tartu to Riga could last less than 3.5 hours. As for funding, the mayor currently does not see that the opening of a new line should be subsidised from the budget of the town of Tartu.

The climate minister said that, in addition to the opening of the Tartu-Riga train line, negotiations are underway with representatives of the Latvian and Lithuanian governments to extend the line from Tallinn to Vilnius.

Tartu is Estonia’s second largest town, home to approximately 100,000 people. The country’s largest and oldest university, the University of Tartu, is located in the town.

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