Lithuania’s rail development, a priority and a necessity

  Lithuania currently operates 1,767 km of railway network and its modernisation and upgrade are essential for the increase of the transport performance and the intergration within the European railway system. This is because Lithuania’s railway system has a unique characteristic of interconnection: two gauges into one railway network – 1435 and 1520 mm.

Pamela Luica is talking with… Nerijus Kaucikas, Deputy Director of Development and International Relations Department, Ministry of Transport and Communications of Lithuania


In this context, the modernisation and optimisation of the railway infrastructure on the international corridors are a priority, as they focus on technical interaction between the two railway networks. We can’t talk about project implementation, without taking into account the level of investments. And here, Lithuania relies on European co-financing in order to reach its objectives. The biggest challenge Lithuania’s transport system faces is a better integration into the TEN-T network, that can be achieved through technical improvements, the construction of missing links and connections, as well as the increase of the transport capacity. Currently, the railway potential is not used to its full capacity due to the lack of intermodal terminals and a limited effectiveness of the interoperabi-lity. Within Priority Axis 6, on “Supporting a multimodal Single European Transport Area by investing in the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) Network”, Lithuania’s actions include the renewal, upgrading and development of railway infrastructure on transport Corridor IXB (including the construction of the second track, and the electrification of Kena-Klaipeda), the construction of the railway infrastructure with track gauge of 1435 mm within transport corridor I – Rail Baltica, the installation of new railway traffic management and control systems, and the deployment of ERTMS on the new 1,435 mm rail and on the existing 1,520 mm. Relating to the Operational Programme for EU Structural Funds Investments for 2014-2020, Lithuania received a total EU co-financing of EUR 6.7 billion. The total OP budget is EUR 7.9 billion. Under TO7, 17.2% were alloted for transport and energy networks to the projects that aim to remove barriers to the Core network infrastructure through modernisation and development works. Within the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020, more than 50% of investments are provided to railway projects. Through this investment, Lithuania is encouraged to modernise and develop its railway infrastructure network and to contibute to the EU target to shift the road transport to railways. Among other rail projects, Lithuania is implementing the Rail Baltica, the most ambitious Baltics infrastructure project. With a EUR 2.47 billion investment (only on Lithuania‘s territory), Lithuania is leader in implementing this project. Recently, Lithuanian Railways announced the open competition on the preparation and implementation of the expropriations for European standard railway section Kaunas-Lithuanian/Latvian state border (as part of Rail Baltica), and signed the contract on the conduction of the upgrade feasibility study for the section “Polish/Lithuanian state border–Kaunas–RRT Palemonas”. Of course that Lithuania relies on its strategic position on the East – West transport corridor, having the transit advantage within Northern transport axis and North – South Corridor. In addition, it offers the synergy between the “1520 – 1435 area”. Therefore, Lithuania is seeking to improve its transit potential to increase the share of railway transport and to strength its transit position on Europe – Asia axis.

In the interview below, Nerijus Kaucikas, Deputy Director of Development and International Relations Department, Ministry of Transport and Communications of Lithuania, explains us the country‘s priorities in the transport sector, the importance of railway projects in its integration with the EU‘s railway network, the currently status of the Rail Baltica, as well as the development of the logistics sector.

For Lithuania, Structural Funds for 2014-2020 are worth EUR 6.7 billion, of which over 17% were allocated to transport infrastructure modernization and energy projects. What is the amount allocated to the transport system and what is the progress so far?

Nerijus Kaucikas: During the 2014-2020 financial period European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund package comprises EUR 1.1 billion and EUR 365,4 million from the CEF – Connecting Europe Facility (European Union instrument) envelope. In the current period 55 percent of investments are scheduled to the railways and 30 percent to the road sector. So far, we have dedicated about EUR 400 million of the Cohesion Fund and almost EUR 270 million of the CEF envelope for the implementation of the transport sector projects.

Related to the above question, what are the results so far regarding railway transport?

Nerijus Kaucikas: We have already dedicated almost EUR 100 million of the Cohesion funds and approximately EUR 250 million of the CEF envelope for railway projects only.

How does the Ministry of Transport approach the development of the railway transport system and what are the essential criteria upon which a developed and European-integrated rail system stands, keeping in mind that most of Lithuania’s rail infrastructure has a different gauge compared to Europe?

Nerijus Kaucikas: Indeed, Lithuania’s railway transport system is characterized by this duality – trains are run on the current 1520 mm gauge network, and European gauge railway network, 1435 mm gauge, which is under development. The 2014-2020 financial perspective shows a shift from road transport to railway investments, with significant amount dedicated to extend capacities and electrify the existing 1520 mm current network, which serves Klaipėda seaport, Kaliningrad transit and trains from CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). So, it is important to emphasize that development of current network is a priority and a necessity. In parallel, significant investments started from 2014 in development of 1435 mm rail network, which in Baltics and Poland is called “Rail Baltica”. The standard to achieve is dual track 240 km/h design speed electrified railway line from Polish/Lithuanian border to Kaunas, from Kaunas reaching Vilnius and Riga. Not only this line will be constructed and run, but also related maintenance and logistics facilities. One of the criteria, by which the success of “Rail Baltica” project in Baltics will be judged, is the actual connection of Baltic States through Poland to the rest of European rail network. In this respect, development of “Rail Baltica” railway line in Poland is equally important as in Baltic countries.

How does the National Transport Development Program 2014-2022 contribute to the development of rail transport and what are the next projects to be implemented within the strategy?

Nerijus Kaucikas: The National Transport Development Program envisages the needed actions up to 2022, which are aimed: a) at the extention of the capacities of the current existing railway network, b) at electrification of this network and c) at development of European gauge (1435 mm) railway network. Currently, the Ministry is undergoing a planning process vis-s-vis beyond 2022, and a new development program or strategy will be initiated soon.

Rail Baltica is the biggest joint rail project of the countries in this region for which, this year, the prime ministers of the three countries signed the agreement that defines the financing and the technical principles, as well as the project deadlines. What can you tell us about Rail Baltica’s implementation level for each country? What is the total value of European financing so far and how was it distributed?

Nerijus Kaucikas: After signature of International Agreement on “Rail Baltica” accomplishment by prime ministers of Baltic countries in January this year, soon ratification of this Agreement in the Parliaments will be finalized. With this Baltic States commit to construct the European railway gauge line and to make it ready for trains on 2026. Also, one of the key components of this commitment is related to availability of significant European funding for this project. Of course, no one can guarantee the needed amount of EU funding for period 2021-2027, as it will be only discussed next year. In current perspective up to 2020, approx. EUR 790 million, dedicated from CEF, was allocated to “Rail Baltica” project in all three countries, Lithuanian part consists of approx. EUR 345 million. Today Lithuania shows a leadership in developing this project. Not only part of 126 km length 1435 mm railway line from Polish border to Kaunas central station was constructed. Today tenders are launched for further construction of European tracks around Kaunas city towards Palemonas intermodal terminal. We are also advancing with the preparatory activities of constructing embankment and related infrastructure from Kaunas towards Latvian border. One of the feature of this project development in Baltic countries is the fact that the starting positions were not the same: while in Latvia and Estonia 1435 mm gauge is absolutely green field development, in Lithuania we started earlier and had a challenge to adjust 1435 mm line construction with the exiting 1520 mm infrastructure. This – construction of 1435 mm gauge line along the exiting or on the same embankment as of 1520 mm line – was a chosen path because of the 2009 economic crisis, when cost savings were necessary, and the European Commission agreed with the concept.

What are the challenges Lithuania is facing in developing the project? What is the progress of Rail Baltica and what projects will be implemented next?

Nerijus Kaucikas: Of course, the main challenge is financing. So far, only approx. up to 20 percent of total costs of “Rail Baltica” in Lithuania are covered with envisaged funds. We do expect a strong support for “Rail Baltica” project from European partners while debating the multiannual financial framework 2021–2027. Another challenge, in particular for Lithuania, is a connection of capital Vilnius to the main 1435 mm line. In Latvia and Estonia the route of the line connects to capitals directly, in Lithuania a core route passes through Kaunas. However, “Rail Baltica” project will not be accomplished without ensuring proper 1435 mm connection to Vilnius. Other challenges are typical to that kind of projects – land acquisition for line construction through the farmlands in Northern Lithuania naturally is not a positive development for farmers and landowners, but as project promotes we will do our best to accommodate all the interests.

What is Rail Baltica’s cost in Lithuania and how will it be covered?

Nerijus Kaucikas: At the end of April 2017, results of jointly established company “RB Rail AS” commissioned Cost-Benefit Analysis were presented. The total costs > > of “Rail Baltica” is EUR 5,8 billion, and Lithuanian part consists of EUR 2,474 billion. As in all three countries, 80–85 percent of these costs are expected to be covered by the European funds, and the rest 15 percent by national means.

How do you approach these projects so as to boost the country’s transit level, but also that of freight volumes?

Nerijus Kaucikas: Indeed, Lithuania is in favorable transit position on East–West transport corridor, which is one of the most central corridors within the Northern Transport Axis, and has the crossing with South– North corridor in Lithuania. Lithuania could offer fast and reliable transport services offering synergy between 1520 mm railway network and European gauge (1435 mm) railway network, as it has both railway systems on its territory, equipped with modern intermodal terminals. Therefore, we are trying to fully use this potential and are working together with partners from other countries (including China) to attract more freight on railways, by implementing container trains projects, thus strengthening country’s transit level.

One of the EU’s goals in the transport segment is shifting around 50% of freight transport (cargo carried on more than 300 km) to railway and maritime transport. How does Lithuania manage to contribute to the development of this objective?

Nerijus Kaucikas: One of the aims of European Union (EU) White Paper 2011 is to shift freight from road to railways: until 2030 – 30 percent, until 2050 – 50 percent. In Lithuania, during the recent years around 42–45 percent of freight was transported by railways each year. We hope that completion of abovementioned “Rail Baltica” project and electrification of main 1520 railway network lines will make rail transport even more attractive to customers and will help to shift freight from road to railways.

What is the role of Lithuania’s railway transport and what projects are developed to increase the share of this transport mode?

Nerijus Kaucikas: Lithuanian railway transport is very important part of Lithuania’s transport system, which generates around 12 percent of total Lithuanian the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Due to favourable Lithuania’s geographical position, railways plays crucial role on long distance freight transport, going to Klaipeda, Kaliningrad seaports, Scandinavia or Western Europe direction. Lithuania aims to strengthen railways position by implementing railway infrastructure projects to make railway transport more attractive to the customers and implementing joint transport projects with partner countries. Currently, the main infrastructure projects are “Rail Baltica” project and electrification of 1520 mm railway network with construction of secondary railway tracks (where necessary to eliminate bottlenecks). Other projects involve modernization of railways nods in Klaipeda seaport in order to increase this port’s efficiency. Joint projects with partner countries includes container trains projects (described above), participation in Rail freight corridors (namely Rail freight corridor No. 8 (“North Sea–Baltic”) and looking for other possibilities to increase rail traffic and rail efficiency. Lithuania is always open for cooperation in the railway transport sector.