New and dynamic changes for Latvia

Posted: 29 January 2008 | | No comments yet

In Latvia, railway transport plays a significant role in the freight transport sector with more than 52 million tons being carried by the railways in 2007.

In Latvia, railway transport plays a significant role in the freight transport sector with more than 52 million tons being carried by the railways in 2007.

In Latvia, railway transport plays a significant role in the freight transport sector with more than 52 million tons being carried by the railways in 2007. Unlike the situation in most EU countries where the share of railway cargo shipment has declined over recent decades, Latvia has retained a stable proportion. The number of passengers using trains has also increased over recent years and figures show that more than 25 million passengers travelled in 2007.

The largest share of the freight traffic is transit cargo. Out of 2,270km of operational track, 1,355km are used as an East-West transit corridor from the borders of Russia and Belarus to the main sea ports in of Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja.

53% of all cargo is delivered to and from Russia, 33% to and from Belarus and 14% is the share of other countries. Cargo shipments from Kazakhstan have increased considerably from 0.6% in 2004 to 2.7% in 2007.

The East-West Railway corridor of Latvia is a route of international importance, being part of the Trans-European Network (TEN). It is one of the busiest freight traffic corridors in the region, ensuring interconnection with Tina Corridors No. I, II and IX.

As manager of the public railway infrastructure, Latvian Railways is concerned with providing good quality infrastructure services for the existing and growing volume of transit traffic volumes., To tackle the most critical problems, such as deterioration of the tracks and the declining level of safety, a comprehensive programme of reconstruction and modernisation began in 1998 to increase speed and track capacity by eliminating ‘bottlenecks’ to improving safety.

After joining the EU in 2004, meeting the requirements for elimination of hazardous material impact on the environment became a high priority of Latvian Railways, opening new perspectives, but at the same time setting new conditions for railway operations.

For realisation of the modernisation programme, apart from the company’s own financial resources, credits from EIB and EBRD were used. For several years now the financial assistance has been received from EU structural funds and donations from the government’s budget as well.

Modernisation of the East-West railway corridor is a significant part of Latvia’s National Transport Development Programme, aimed at supporting the development of transit traffic, to strengthen the development of multi-modal transport in the East-West direction and to support co-operation with neighbouring countries and integration into the European transport system. Collaboration with Russia and Belarus (being non-EU neighbours) is based not only on the common 1,520mm railway gauge but also on the longstanding economic interests. For example, an agreement was recently reached with Belarus on concurrent building of a second track on both sides of the border to increase cargo flows. The project is envisaged to start during 2008.

Availability of EU financial assistance opens new perspectives for Latvian Railways and gives opportunities to implement several large-scale projects by attracting companies providing state-of-the-art technologies, knowledge and experience in preparation and practical realisation of projects through international tenders. Open international tenders with strong competition allow Latvian Railways to conclude contracts for the best price and save considerable sums.

An example excellent cooperation with an international team is the construction of the second reception yard at Rïzekne station, currently used as a border station. It was put into operation in 2006 and the works were implemented under the Design and Build contract conditions by the consortium BMG-Transceltnieks representing Latvian and Russian companies. Supervising the work was Dutch consulting Engineers company Witetveen+Bos. The total area of the new reception yard is 7.3 ha and includes six arrival/departure tracks of 1,050m usable length, sidings and dead-end tracks. The total length of constructed tracks is 8,9km and the total number of installed turnouts is 27. All tracks were made of continuously welded rails (CWR) provided by Austrian company Voestalpine Schienen GmbH. In order to ensure the environment quality requirements, the new groundwater monitoring and air quality monitoring OPSYS systems were installed for the reception yard, which automatically measure concentrations of pollutants in the air on a daily bases and transfer the data to the state Agency of Environment, Geology and Meteorology. To prevent pollution of watercourses, the water treatment facilities were installed in the yard, and including drainage water treatment equipment EuroHEK and EuroPEK and the biological wastewater treatment facilities.

The new yard will allow the arrival and handling of long freight trains with up to 74 wagons.

Close to completion (at the end of this year) is another project named ‘Replacement of turnouts on East-West corridor’. Currently, 626 sets of turnouts have been replaced from 768. VAE GmbH is the supplier of the turnouts, totalling €35.2 million.

At the end of last decade, technical surveys on various sections of the East-West railway corridor identified very poor railway track conditions. Some sections, laid in the Soviet times, were worn out which resulted in the introduction of speed restrictions on those areas. Track materials in some areas including rail, ballast and sleepers with fastenings, level crossings, earth embankments, structures and drain materials have exceeded the maximum degree of wear. Therefore, during the period of 2000-2004, the most urgent replacement of 340km track sections was realised. Latvian Railways is now executing works on replacement of the next 260km of track. The total volume cost of this project is approximately €89 million including a 52% EU co-financing plan. Suppliers were chosen in international tenders and are representing Sweden, Russia, Germany and Latvia.

Latvian Railways would like to emphasise those projects which are aimed at increasing the safety of traffic. The project of modernising the Hot-Box Detection systems foresees installing 58 control posts equipped with light signals, radio stations with antennas and voice callers, integrated automatic systems for rolling stock control, as well as a centralised data processing system, using the modernist techniques worked out in accordance with European Standards, regulations and Latvian Railways requirements.

Successful cooperation among the consortium of General Electrics, Belam Riga, Safege – JP Transplan – Rejlers, and Latvian Railways is a guarantee that the project will be finished by the end of this year in accordance with the Contract requirements.

Another large and very complicated project started in 2005 for the modernisation of the signalling system. The purpose of this €80 million project is to ensure traffic safety and reliable operation of signalling systems by replacement of existing physically ageing and obsolete interlocking systems and the replacement of existing semi-automatic block systems with modern ones.

This will result in 565km of lines being equipped with automatic block systems. 190km of power supply lines will be modernised or constructed and 131 level crossings will be equipped with automatic signalling systems. The total amount of signals is approximately 1,300 and centralised points approximately 540.

The are 52 intermediate stations operated from regional CTC central offices. One of the largest regional stations is Jelgava, which after completion of the project will be operated independently. The Pproject is divided into two stages, two different contracts were signed for the works and the contractors have to design and build new systems for all stations and line sections.

The contractor of stage I is the consortium of Thales Rail Signalling Solutions GmbH (Germany) and Thales Rail Signalling Solutions (Baltics). First site works have already started.

Executer of stage II commences from December 2007 and is operated by the consortium of Bombardier (Sweden) and Belam Riga (having good experience in collaboration with Latvian Railways in other projects). All the works have to be completed by the end of 2009.

The project ‘Construction of second track in Riga – Krustpils Section’ will start shortly and will eliminate bottlenecks on the route, allowing the increase of speed for both freight and passenger trains. The latter servicing the inhabitants of Riga for everyday journeys to and from the Capital. It will reduce travel time on the line and will contribute to the mobility of its population.

The company is paying special attention to fulfilling EU standards for safer train communication. Assisted by German consulting company Quatron, a feasibility study was worked out for optimal solutions on introducing the GSM-R system which is mandatory for the modernisation of communication on the corridors of the European railway network. At present, Latvian Railways is investigating financing alternatives for implementation.

Riga railway junction node is the busiest part of the entire Latvian Railways network. 38% of all transit cargo to the Riga port terminals is transported via Riga and also public passenger traffic is concentrated there. The Riga marshalling yard Skirotava is the focus of all freight traffic entering and leaving Riga. Based on information from the Riga ports authority about considerable growth of cargo volumes in the future, Latvian Railways has worked out a plan of reconstruction of Riga junction node to increase throughput capacity of the track network allowing freight tranship not only to the existing port terminals but also to those under development. A strong demand from Riga city authorities to free the city centre from freight traffic and areas close to the city centre from ports activities, was the main reason why a decision to build a new port terminal on the left bank of the Daugava river in 2008-2013 was made. As a result of that, a new reception yard, known as Bolderaja II and a connecting line with the new port terminal ‘Krievusala’ will be built. Fundamental changes are proposed for another port area ‘Kundzin,sala’ – a natural island of the river where a new container terminal with a capacity of up to 10 million tons a year will be developed in coming years, envisaging building of a new connecting line from the main track towards the port.

During recent years, Riga Airport has grown rapidly and the number of passengers in 2007 reached 3 million . Therefore, an approach to bring travellers comfortably and fast to the city centre on rail must be taken. A new task for Latvian Railways is to explore and select an optimal route for a new railway line from the Riga Airport to the city centre within a short period of time.

From a long term perspective, the highest importance should be paid to the Rail Baltica project, developing the North-South line connecting Tallinn in Estonia via Latvia and Lithuania with Warsaw in Poland. It will result in more efficient land-bound connections between the Baltic States and other EU countries through the Hub of Warsaw and will open new perspectives for Latvian Railways.

Rail Baltica will support the wider EU goals of parity of access to services and infrastructure of EU Member States and development of sustainable modes of transportation and links with the rest of the EU rail network. Rail Baltica is identified as priority project no. 27 of the Trans-European Transport Network in Europe for the development of the TEN-T. The length of the Rail Baltica corridor on Latvian territory between the Lithuanian and Estonian border is 240km. The Rail Baltica corridor on Latvian territory is going through the capital city Riga, regional and locally important regional centres Jelgava, Sigulda, Cesis and Valmiera. Project realisation will be performed on the corridor’s Latvian railway sections, providing for the projected train speed of 120km/h.

Between 2007 and 2013, planning is foreseen for financing including theing TEN-T budget for realisation of the 1st stage of the Rail Baltica project – for improvement and maintenance of existing railway tracks.

This is just a brief review describing the main dynamic changes for Latvian Railways. Besides the projects mentioned in this article, the company is on an every-day basis working on small but important matters to be sure that services provided by Latvian Railways are compatible with infrastructure managers in neighbouring countries.

About the author

Aija Poca

In 1966, Ms. Poc˘a graduated from Latvia’s University with a qualification as an Economist-Mathematician. She is a Postgraduate in studies at the Institute of Economics (IE) of Latvian Academy of Sciences. Her practical work experience includes a research fellow in IE (up to 1993), member of Parliament (Chairperson of standing committee of Budget and Finances), State Minister for State revenue (responsible for tax administration and customs) and adviser to the Minister of Finances. Since 2004, Ms. Poc˘a has been the Head of the Project Management Unit of Latvian Railways.

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