Regional rail line Valmiera – Cesis – Jēkabpils

The rail network in the Baltic States is generally oriented east-west. When the railways were built in the Russian Empire, the Baltic ports served a Russian hinterland, and they still do. Independence did not lead to a re-orientation: in fact, the north-south rail connections got worse. A new standard-gauge rail line now is now planned, the Rail Baltica project. It is a high-speed line (HSL), but it will not be integrated with the existing network. In fact, if they were not earning money from Russian transit freight, the Baltic states would probably have closed their rail networks entirely.

Despite the low population density, the rail network can be justified, and there is room for some new lines. A new regional line Valmiera – Cesis – Jēkabpils would make sense, in combination with the proposed regional rail line Valmiera – Pärnu. It would connect with the proposed high-speed line Riga – Tallinn at Pärnu, and at Jēkabpils with the Riga – Moscow route along the Daugava river.

New line in red, Valmiera – Pärnu in orange…

Valmiera - Daugavpils

Valmiera (population 28 000) is the regional centre of Vidzeme region. At present, there is no ‘cross-country’ link to the Daugava river axis, and the more densely populated Latgale region.

Valmiera itself was once served by ‘north-south’ trains, from Riga to Tallinn, via Valka/Valga and Tartu. That is an indirect route, and in fact the line is geographically a Riga – St. Petersburg route.

context Valmiera

In the Soviet era, a more direct Riga – Tallinn route was created, by connecting local lines through Limbaži and Pärnu. Both the Rail Baltica HSL, and the Riga – Tallinn HSL proposed here, are successors to that route. (The Tallinn – Viljandi line in Estonia was also connected to the route, at Mõisaküla).

After construction of the proposed Pärnu – Valmiera line, and restoration of the line to Viljandi, there would be two routes from Valmiera north through Estonia. In turn, that would justify a line south to Jēkabpils.

The line from Riga to Tartu, Pskov, and St. Petersburg could also be upgraded, with a new cut-off line to Valmiera. That would be shorter than the current line via Cesis (121 km), and allow higher speeds. However, that upgrading is not a precondition for a new Valmiera – Jēkabpils line.

The proposed line assumes upgrading of the Riga – Valmiera line, and the Riga – Daugavpils line. A line speed of 120 km/h is probably the best available, on these existing alignments. The new central section would be built for 150 km/h, the European standard for new lines. Its alignment is not described in detail. Trains from Valmiera would use the existing Riga line through Cēsis, 28 km further south (population 18 000). About 10 km south of Cēsis, the railway crosses the A2 highway: the new alignment would diverge here, near Āraiši station.

The new alignment (about 80-90 km long) would approximately follow the P31 road to Ērgļi (2000 inhabitants). This village was the former terminus of rail line Riga -Ērgļi, which is now closed. There is little point in re-opening that line, which serves very few people. It was built in 1935, and the plan was to extend it via Madona to Kārsava (on the main Warsaw – St. Petersburg line), creating an east-west line. Instead it was left as a minor rural line from Riga, and rural depopulation undermined its only function. A new station at Ērgļi would be some compensation for closure of the Riga line, even if trains no longer run to Riga.

Cesis - Plavinas

From Ērgļi, the new line would approximately follow the P78 road, toward Pļaviņas. If it approached Pļaviņas on the western side, it could serve the station, on the main line along the Daugava river. Pļaviņas (population 4 000) is also the junction for the branch line, to the small towns Madona and Gulbene. (The branch was originally a narrow-gauge line to Valka/Valga).

It might be easier to bypass Pļaviņas on the eastern side, and in that case trains would not serve the station. Either way, trains would continue to Jēkabpils, a railway junction (population 25 000). Here the line to Moscow via Rēzekne, diverges from the line along the river, to Daugavpils and Smolensk. (Jēkabpils station is in fact at the northern edge of Krustpils, across the river from Jēkabpils itself, and might be relocated).

Trains from Valmiera would serve Līvāni, and terminate at Daugavpils, the largest city in the region (population 97 000). That would maximise connections with regional bus services in Latgale. The route Valmiera – Daugavpils would be about 240 km long. With about one-third on new line, the rest on upgraded sections, and 4-5 intermediate stations, journey time would certainly be under 3 hours.

Regional rail line Valmiera – Cesis – Jēkabpils

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