Rail transport services must contribute to the environmentally sound and fast transport of passengers and large-scale cargo.
There are more than 2,000 km or railroads in Estonia, which are mostly owned by state enterprises AS Eesti Raudtee and Edelaraudtee Infrastruktuuri AS. There are also sections of private railroads, for example, in harbours and the so-called Oil Shale Railroad.
The development of railway infrastructure, logistics, carriage of passengers and cargo, rolling stock and traffic and environmental safety is co-ordinated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications with its subdivisions. In Estonia, railroad issues are covered by the Railways Act.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications also takes part in the development of fiscal and pricing policy of passenger transport by rail and concludes public transport service provision agreements with railway operators.
Passenger train traffic
According to a transnational document, Estonia 2030, rail transport represents one of the main options for shortening time and space distances in Estonia.
This means that the main aim of passenger train traffic is to offer fast and convenient transport connections between cities. The passenger train traffic plays an important role in achieving the goal established for the Transport Sector Development Plan – to shorten the time required to connect county centres to Tallinn below three hours; this is intended to be achieved by 2020.
In 2014, the train fleet was all replaced for new, Stadler Flirt type trains. Half of the trains used are electrically powered trains and provide services on regional Harju county lines; the rest are diesel powered trains and provide services on transnational lines. The trains belong to Elron, who is also their operator.
The reconstruction works on the railway started during the previous development period 2006-2013 (including the construction of new waiting platforms), which will help raise the speed of passenger train traffic up to 120 km/h.
In 2014–2020, some of the sections between Tapa-Tartu, Tapa-Narva, Tallinn-Paldiski and Tallinn-Rapla will be reconstructed.
Quality requirements for the public carriage of passengers are specified in the contracts for provision of services and legislation that regulates the maintenance of railway infrastructures and rolling stock; time schedules and routes are determined with the accuracy of specified time.
The operator will be required to ensure traffic safety of passengers and regular services, notifying all the passengers promptly of any delays or cancellations of passenger trains. In the event of a cancelled trip, the carrier will be required to replace the train with some other means of transport, such as buses.
The condition of railway infrastructure and rolling stock, intended for public use, will be inspected by the Technical Regulatory Authority.
Logistics and transit
For a long time, the carriage of goods by railway has mostly taken place on eastern and western directions.
It is the task of the state to ensure the maintenance and good condition of the existing railway infrastructure and ensure a sufficient volume of carriage traffic to keep it suitably burdened. The railway must match contemporary technical standards, safety requirements and the expectations of the carriage market.
The existing railway infrastructure will help put through much bigger cargo volumes and it is important to avoid raising railway infrastructure charges to remain in competition.
The main purpose of investments made into the sector is to ensure the performance, quality and safety of railway infrastructure.
Problems with railway capacity may incur, most probably, on Paldiski direction and therefore it is important to make plans for developing this very direction.
More specific information about the carriage of goods by railway is available from the owners of the infrastructures, AS Eesti Raudtee and Edelaraudtee Infrastruktuuri AS, or the main carriers of cargo AS EVR Cargo and E.R.S AS.
International train connections and Rail Baltic
Currently, Estonia has established international passenger train connections with St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The St. Petersburg and Moscow lines are operated by GoRail. As the passenger train traffic has good potential for improving connections with Russia, the Transport Sector Development Plants provides for improving the speed and quality of connections as a result of co-operation between the state and line operators. This will mean investments into infrastructure, speeding up state border crossing process and acquiring new rolling stock.
The plans also include restoring direct train connections on the Tallinn-Tartu-Valga-Riga line.
- GoRail »
Moscow and St. Peterburg connections
Rail Baltic is the largest devised transport investment that is aimed at ensuring a direct connection to the European Union railroad network.
Rail Baltic would start from Tallinn and pass through Riga and Kaunas to the Lithuanian/Polish border and from there on to Warsaw. In Estonia, the train would also stop in Pärnu. The electrified railway connection will have a track gauge of 1,453 mm (the “European” gauge); the trains can travel at the maximum speed of 240 km/h. According to the plans, the construction of Rail Baltic will start in 2018 and the connection should be operable in 2025.
- Rail Baltic »
Internal market of the European Union
The European Commission wants to abolish all the technical, administrative and legal restrictions that would prevent the member states from entering railroad markets.
This means that the carriage of passengers and cargo will become more open and the European Union will be regulating the railway infrastructure charges, which will have a material impact on the administration of the Estonian railway network and development of the principles for the provision of services.
Estonia fully supports the opening of the European Union markets of passenger and cargo carriage; however, competent authorities should maintain the opportunity to enter into direct public service contracts to ensure the availability of railway transport, as bidding would not always be economically feasible.
International organisations and co-operation
The most important international railway organisations are:
- Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD)
The main areas of activity include the establishment and improvement of legal-normative bases for carriage by rail, organisation of co-operation in utilisation of railways and technical development for further extension of international carriage by rail. OSJD has 27 members (European and Asian) countries and it is headquartered in Warsaw.
- International Union of Railways (UIC)
The main functions include the development of technical co-operation between member states and development of common railway systems in general. 82 active members have joined the organisation, plus 80 associated members and 35 observing members. The organisation’s headquarter is located in Paris.
- The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER)
Focuses mostly on political issues related to the development of carriage of passengers and cargo by rail and deals with everyday problems of railways at the European level. 32 members – all the EU member states; headquartered in Brussels.
- Railway Transport Council of the CIS countries
Deals mostly with the use of common railway rolling stock, legal instruments and agreements for transnational carriage of cargo and passengers, rules for the use of railways and rolling stock and the mutual accounting and settlement systems. The organisation consists of the former USSR countries. Seated in Moscow.
- The Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF)
An organisation that aims at harmonisation and supplementation of international rules that serve to regulate international transport by rail; its members have also joined the COTIF convention that provides the rules for carriage of passengers, luggage and cargo by rail. OTIF has 48 members (European, African, Asian and the Near East countries) and is headquartered in Bern.