Financing concerns have thrown doubt over a “once-in-a-century” project to build a rail link from Estonia to Poland, Euronews can reveal.
Brussels has already given €765 million to the Rail Baltica scheme, which plans a high-speed link between Warsaw and Tallinn.
But the CEO of the €5.8 billion project has admitted there are no guarantees over getting future European funding.
Baiba Rubesa told Euronews that with Brexit on the horizon the European Union was moving into a new financing era.
“Assuming that Brexit is going to happen I think all bets are off for business as usual in the EU so we’re working hard to make sure we are able to retain our priority project status.
“The three Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — on their own just cannot afford something like this.
“There’s an extreme likelihood of continued financing because this is a priority project because it established one of the last missing links in Europe.
“But then the questions is: what is the intensity rate of financing and over what time will it come?”
Rubesa’s comments come after a forum this week that brought together politicians, business and other people linked to the project.
The scheme, which could be extended to Helsinki via a tunnel under the Gulf of Finland, is currently in the design phase.
Construction, said Rubesa, is expected to start in 2020.
The 870-kilometre electrified route will run from Tallinn taking in Parnu, Riga, Panevėžys, Kaunas, Bialystok and Warsaw, for connections on to Germany and beyond. There are also branches off to Riga Airport and Vilnius.
Passenger trains will run at up to 240 km/h.
Rubesa said it would reduce CO2 emissions by moving freight from road to rail; open up the EU’s internal market to businesses in the Baltics and reduce travelling times in the region.
“It will bring people together,” she added. “Tallinn to Riga is a four-hour drive, it will be under two hours by train.
“There’s no question there will be high connectivity and less time spent travelling.
“It’s known as the project of the century, it is the most significant project since [Baltic countries’] independence, it will be a big game changer in the region and I include Finland in that.
“The eastern part of Poland, I’m sure, will also experience completely new activity that hasn’t materialised for.”
Rubesa said other challenges — finance aside — included alignment and cooperation between Baltic countries on the projects and local environmental concerns, such as creating crossings for animals in Estonia.
She has also experienced internal problems. Estonian and Lithuanian shareholders of RB Rail, the company behind the project, expressed a lack of confidence in her leadership earlier this year.
Rubesa, when asked what the shareholders’ concerns were, declined to comment.
“We’ve had dialogue over this and I’m clearly still in my position,” she said. “We continue to drive the project forward.”