A Riga – Tallinn high-speed line (HSL) would provide a standard-gauge north-south link between the two cities, with one intermediate station at Pärnu. The original post here suggested a route via Valmiera, combined with a standard-gauge HSL to Tartu and Pskov, but that implies conversion of almost the entire network in Latvia and Estonia. A line along the coast is simpler. The official Rail Baltica project, a north-south HSL, also follows the coast north of Riga. It lacks integration with the Russian-gauge network, but an integrated network is possible, even in this thinly populated region.
A new Valmiera – Pärnu regional line would be a logical addition to the network. It could connect at Valmiera with the proposed regional rail line Valmiera – Cēsis – Jēkabpils. From Valmiera the line would run north to Rūjiena and Mõisaküla, and then follow the alignment of the former line Valga – Pärnu, via Kilingi-Nõmme. Only these three villages would have stations: the area is too thinly populated to justify any others. The line would be electrified, but probably single track, unless it carries significant freight traffic.
Click to enlarge: the Valmiera – Pärnu line (orange) and the proposed route to Daugavpils…
The line is described here from north to south. The small resort city of Pärnu (population 41 000) is at present served by a single-track regional line from Tallinn, via Rapla. The proposed HSL might follow the existing railway in Pärnu, with a new station at the south-eastern edge of town, or it might use a new alignment on viaduct along the E67 by-pass road (Ehitajate tee). The proposed line to Valmiera must begin at the HSL station, and in that respect, the southeastern station location is better.
Both the HSL to Riga, and the new line to Valmiera, would exit Pärnu toward the south-east, both following an old rail alignment. (The HSL would then turn south, about 5 km from Pärnu). The old railway is the former narrow-gauge line Pärnu – Mõisaküla – Rūjiena – Valga, opened in 1896. A branch from Mõisaküla to Viljandi was opened in 1897, and by 1900 the line had been extended to Tallinn. This created a very indirect route Tallinn – Pärnu, and a shorter route to Pärnu was built, via Lelle. At present, only Tallinn – Pärnu (141 km) and Tallinn – Viljandi (150 km) are in use, with infrequent services.
The alignment of the abandoned lines is still available: the Mõisaküla – Viljandi line, for instance, is accessible by motorcycle. And even in this thinly populated region, a rail network can function. Mõisaküla station was apparently a busy junction, although by western European standards it is ‘the middle of nowhere’.
The new line to Valmiera would simply follow the old line to Rūjiena, excluding some local sharp curves. The first station would be at Kilingi-Nõmme. The village has about 2 500 inhabitants, the municipality about 5 000 – population density here is only 7/km2. The station would be about 37 km from Pärnu (the exact distance depends on the station location in Pärnu itself).
The second station would be about 15 km further, at Mõisaküla (population 1000). The former branch from Viljandi entered this junction station from the south, so a service to Valmiera would require reversal. It might be better for trains from Viljandi to avoid the station, and continue southward toward Valmiera.
The third station would be 24 km further, at Rūjiena in Latvia, population 3 000. Here, the Pärnu – Valga line met a 1937 line to Riga, via Limbaži. (Only the Riga – Skulte section is still in operation). From 1981, after narrow-gauge sections had been converted to Russian gauge, a through service Riga – Limbaži – Rūjiena – Pärnu – Tallinn operated. (To facilitate that route, the station was relocated north of the village).
Click to enlarge: new alignment around Rūjiena…
So there were two historical routes south from Rūjiena, but never a rail connection to Valmiera. Adding this ‘missing link’ would create a viable regional network, despite the low population density. The old line to Valga passed right through Rūjiena village, but a new line could bypass it on the eastern side, with a new station. The new alignment would be about 45 km long, closely following the P17 highway.
The line would enter Valmiera from the north-east: the station is at the southern edge of the town. Although its population is only 25 000, Valmiera is the regional centre for the historical region of Vidzeme. It is on the main rail line Riga – Valga – Pskov – St. Petersburg: the secondary Riga -Tartu route diverges at Valga. Upgrading of these routes would justify a cut-off line between Riga and Valmiera, shortening the current alignment via Cēsis (121 km), but that is not a precondition for the Pärnu – Valmiera line.
The new line would carry a regional service Pärnu – Valmiera (about 120 km). It might be extended to Daugavpils on the proposed cross-country line, or there might be a separate inter-regional service. The line south of Mõisaküla might carry a Viljandi – Valmiera service, if the Mõisaküla – Viljandi line is re-opened, although a Pärnu – Viljandi service is also an option. Although using an old alignment, the new line would be built for the European standard of 150 km/h. With three stops, the Pärnu – Valmiera journey time should be about 70-80 minutes.