Lithuanian state-owned railway company Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai AB began a 1.3 billion litai ($505 million) project to link the Baltic nation’s rail network with the rest of the European Union by end-2015.
Five contractors began laying 123 kilometers (76 miles) of high-speed European-gauge rail from Kaunas, in central Lithuania, to the Polish border today, the Vilnius-based company said on the BNS news service. They are Gelezinkelio Tiesimo Centras UAB, a consortium of Kauno Tiltai AB and Mitnija UAB, Panevezio Keliai AB, a consortium of Eurovia CS AS and Eurovia Lietuva AB, and Hydrostatyba UAB.
The EU is helping pay for the effort, which is part of its Rail Baltica project to build a 1,200 kilometer modern rail link from Poland through Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and -- by ferry across the Gulf of Finland -- to Helsinki. The three Baltic states had until now different-size Russian-style track.
“In a bit more than two years, for the first time in history, we’ll be connected with the railway infrastructure of Poland and other European states,” Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai General Director Stasys Dailydka said in the statement.
The upgrade will allow an increase in average train speeds to 120 kilometers per hour, from 70 kilometers per hour now, according to the Lithuanian Rail Baltica website. It will make cargo shipments and travel by rail more attractive and help reduce road congestion in the region.
Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai’s contractors will also refurbish parallel older track and upgrade stations and bridges along the route between the Polish border and Kaunas, the state railway company said.