Although a small country, Latvia is on the right track to become a transport hub between Europe and China due to its efficient connections to Scandinavia and China. Recently, Latvijas dzelzceļš and Belarus Railways have signed an agreement to deliver faster freight transport services between the two capitals by setting up “Minsk-Riga” cargo express trains. Also, another agreement has been signed with Russia to promote and attract cargo volumes to railways from China using the Latvian and Russian infrastructure. In the same year, the first container pilot-train ran from Yiwu (east of China) to Riga. However, more projects are expected as Latvia is determined to play a bigger part in the international transport system. To consolidate its position, increase the performance of services and capacity and reduce costs, Latvia plans to electrify more than half of its railway network.
Railway transport plays a very important part in Latvia’s economy, accounting for 52% of the country’s total freight volumes. Last year, 48 million tonnes of freight were shipped by rail, 87% of railway traffic being transited through ports. As railway transport has a major contribution to economic growth, connectivity and trade, the infrastructure must have the capacity to meet mobility requirements. Therefore, the modernisation and electrification of infrastructure becomes a vital element to ensure a seamless traffic flow that would help boost capacity, competitiveness, the integration of the network into the European one. Only 14% or 257 km of Latvia’s total railway network of around 1,860 km are electrified, the smallest share in the European Union, where the average exceeds 50%.
The rail sections electrified with direct current of 3,3 kV are Riga Pasazieru station – Jelgava, Tornakalns–Tukums II, Riga Pasazieru station–Zemitani–Skulte, Riga Pasazieru station–Aizkraukle and Zemitani–Skirotava.
The network electrification programme is a major transport development project included in the National Development Plan, but also in the Transport Development Guidelines, both for 2014-2020.
According to the programme, around 840 km of railways will be electrified, necessary investments amounting to EUR 1.3 billion of which EUR 347 million are provided through European cohesion funds for 2014-2020. The electrification programme will be implemented in three phases. According to estimates, the first phase will be launched in 2019 and will end in 2023, the second phase will end in 2025, while the third in 2030.
By evaluating the analysis carried out in 2016, taking into account two alternatives for the first phase of the electrification, in terms of return of investment, the best alternative considers electrification in the direction of Riga.
At the beginning of 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers announced their support to developing the electrification programme elaborated by the Ministry of Transport and Latvijas dzelzceļš. According to him, the first phase includes the electrification of the network in Riga to Daugavpils and Rēzekne, in the south-east of the country, via Krustpils by implementing the 25 kV AC electrification technology.
At least for the development of the first phase, the authorities consider the financing of the project as LDz would be in need of capital, supported by the state budget. However, based on Eurostat’s results, a capital increase by EUR 120 million, necessary for electrification, would have an impact on the national budget. Because of these issues, instead of electrifying the railway that links Latgale to Riga, the authorities proposed the reconstruction of the section already electrified in Riga Region.
Initially, the electrification cost of Daugavpils – Rēzekne route to Riga was EUR 519 million, but, thanks to its technological development, Latvijas dzelzceļš has managed to reduce costs to EUR 441 million. Thus, the project implementation will benefit from co-financing allocated through the Cohesion Fund (EUR 347 million) and LDz funds, without state investments. Currently, negotiations are underway with the European Investment Bank which has expressed its intention to allocate funds to support the electrification of the railway.
“Gradual electrification of railway network is one of the development directions. It provides more efficient and cheaper tractive power for carriers and creating pre-conditions for transport of heavier and longer trains. The decision made by the government allows implementation of the project, providing that until 2023 one full transit corridor functionality would be equipped with electrical tractive power,” Edvīns Bērziņš, the President of LDz said.
Electrification will receive a long-term investment to ensure the performance of transport services and economic growth by facilitating exports and imports. The project will generate multiple benefits over the next three decades and transport operators will be able to provide cheaper and more competitive services. For example, according to LDz, freight transport costs will drop by around one euro per tonne, on electrified lines, which will generate new opportunities for attracting freight for transit and railways.
The next phase of the programme, from 2020 to 2025, proposes the electrification of Daugavpils-Indra sections, at the border with Belarus, and Krustpils-Skirotava, on this section between Aizkraukle and Šķirotava, the electrification system being converted from direct current to alternative current. If these sections are electrified, freight volumes from Belarus to Salaspils cargo terminal (near Riga) will increase. This terminal is capable to take over trains on broad-gauge, as well as on standard-gauge. The terminal will be part of Rail Baltica Corridor that will ensure the transfer to European-gauge infrastructure, thus facilitating connection to TEN-T.
Within phase three of the electrification programme, which will take five years until 2030, the last two sections will be converted to AC. When these two last projects will be completed, Latvia’s rail infrastructure will be 60% electrified, compared to the present rate of 14%.