Team Finland Business Breakfast with Timo Riihimäki, CEO of RailBaltica

Team Finland Business Breakfast with Timo Riihimäki, CEO of RailBaltica

Timo Riihimäki, the CEO of RailBaltica opened our Team Finland Business Breakfast on the 24th of April. Mr. Riihimäki talked us through the RailBaltica project: its goals, its current phase and the views for the future. RailBaltica is a major rail transport infrastructure project, which aims to fully integrate the Baltic States into the railway system of Continental Europe as well as the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). The RailBaltica project is a major investment for the Baltic States and the EU, but it also brings great benefits and creates welfare.

Timo Riihimäki, CEO of RailBaltica and the Ambassador of Finland in Latvia Riitta Korpivaara
Timo Riihimäki, CEO of RailBaltica and the Ambassador of Finland in Latvia Riitta Korpivaara

On the 24th of April we had the pleasure of hosting a Team Finland Business Breakfast with Timo Riihimäki, the CEO of RailBaltica, as guest speaker. Mr. Riihimäki talked us through the RailBaltica project: its goals, its current phase and the views for the future.

Rail Baltica is a major rail transport infrastructure project, which aims to fully integrate the Baltic States into the railway system of Continental Europe as well as the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). Almost two decades have passed since the first cooperation agreement for Rail Baltica, but only recently has the project started to advance more rapidly and concretely. The Rail Baltica project shall be largely financed by the EU (85 %), with the three Baltic States covering for the rest of the costs totalling approximately EUR 5.8 billion.

The Rail Baltica project is not just about building 870 km of railroad; it is also about creating a connection between the Baltic countries and the Central European railway system. Mr Riihimäki stressed that there is no other similar infrastructure project involving three countries in Europe, which makes Rail Baltica an exceptional endeavour on the European scale. The EU Commission has agreed to fund the project, since it meets the commission’s criteria for projects that fill the missing links in the EU’s transport networks. However, details of the EU funding need to be worked out during the coming year, as part of the negotiations for the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021–2027.

Through the EU’s co-financing, European taxpayers will be investing about 4.6 billion Euros into this project. Riihimäki pointed out that the Rail Baltica project also will bring great benefits and welfare in return of the investment: the construction and operation of the railroad will create new job opportunities, and new services will be needed. The infrastructure project will support the economy and increase trade in the area, since passengers and cargo will travel so much faster. With passenger trains traveling up to 249 km/h, the travel time between e.g. Tallinn and Riga will be reduced to less than 2 hours and the entire route from Tallinn to Warsaw would be covered in approximately 8 hours. According to a study commissioned by Rail Baltica, the social and economic benefits brought by the railway would be up to EUR 16.2 billion, with other positive catalytic effects that are hard to estimate. Rail Baltica has also been recognized as part of the EU dual use/military mobility infrastructure.

At the moment, the project’s key priority is to finalize detailed technical designs and necessary land acquisitions. When these goals have been met, the project will move on to the construction phase, which should be in full swing from 2021. The railway is envisaged to become operational in 2026.

The Government of Finland recently accepted an invitation by the three Baltic States to become officially part of the Joint Venture, and Finland’s representatives are currently reviewing the terms for entering the project. When talking about the Rail Baltica project and Finland, also the separate Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel project always gets invoked. However, according to Mr Riihimäki, talks about the tunnel are not a priority. In order for the tunnel project to move ahead, Rail Baltica needs to be built first. If there is no Inter-Baltic railway, there is no point in even thinking about the Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel.