Three high-speed lines (HSL) into the Baltic States were proposed here earlier. They are ‘north-south’ lines in the sense of being a connection from the South, but in fact they mainly run south-west to north-east. They cross ‘east-west’ lines, built inland from Baltic ports, when the region was part of the Russian Empire.
A new east-west high-speed line from Kaliningrad to Kaunas and Vilnius would link three proposed high-speed lines:
- a high-speed line Berlin – Kaliningrad – Riga
- an upgraded line (Ausbaustrecke) Poznań – Sovetsk, and
- a high-speed line Warsaw – Kaunas – Riga
Berlin – Riga…
The Kaliningrad – Vilnius HSL would create additional high-speed routes, such as Berlin – Kaunas. At Vilnius, it would also link to an upgraded Warsaw – Vilnius – St. Petersburg line.
There is already a rail line from Kaliningrad to Kaunas and Vilnius: it continues to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Because Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian exclave, the line is a transit route. Residents of Kaliningrad have to cross the EU external border into Lithuania, and then exit the EU into Belarus, to reach the rest of Russia. Air travel is a more convenient option. For freight, the line is effectively the only route between the port of Kaliningrad, and its hinterland in Belarus and Russia.
At present the entire line is Russian gauge. Originally there was a break of gauge at Eydtkuhnen, on the border between the German and Russian empires. Apart from some narrow-gauge local lines, the other lines within East Prussia were all standard gauge.
The proposed HSL would run parallel to the existing line, duplicating the rail approaches to the stations at Kaunas and Vilnius. That leaves the options open for the rest of the network. The Russian-gauge line could simply be retained in it present form, or it could be converted to standard gauge, and a separate Russian-gauge freight line added.
With the construction of the three proposed high-speed lines, the main stations at Kaliningrad, Kaunas and Vilnius would be served by standard-gauge lines. Conversion of the line between them therefore seems logical. Reconversion to standard gauge would also be the most logical option for the rest of Kaliningrad Oblast, which is the northern half of former East Prussia. (The rest of East Prussia was allocated to Poland after the Second World war, and its railways remained standard gauge).
Although more complex, conversion to standard-gauge seems the best option in Lithuania, to avoid further gauge breaks there. The most comprehensive solution would be: standard gauge south of the rail line Liepāja – Jelgava – Jēkabpils – Daugavpils (brown on the map), and west of the Warsaw – Vilnius – Daugavpils line (dark red).
For development of regional networks around Kaunas and Vilnius, unity of gauge is preferable. That also argues against retention of a Russian-gauge line for local services, when a parallel standard-gauge HSL is built. So a freight transit line seems to be preferable, even though it requires two separate new lines. It could by-pass Vilnius and Kaunas using existing freight lines, connecting via dual-gauge freight sidings, to industry and freight terminals in those cities.
For onward travel toward Minsk, HSL passengers could simply change trains at Vilnius. Alternatively, a limited number of variable gauge trains could be used for through services to Minsk, even possibly on a Russian-gauge HSL.
Alignment of the HSL
The alignment would follow existing infrastructure over the entire length, and is not described in detail. The standard-gauge HSL would start at Kaliningrad station, where it would diverge from the proposed Berlin – Kaliningrad – Riga HSL high-speed line. The city of Kaliningrad / Калининград, with 450 000 inhabitants, is the only large city in Kaliningrad Oblast (population 970 000).
East of Kaliningrad, the HSL would follow the existing line for 90 km, to Chernyakhovsk / Черняхо́вск, where it would connect with the Ausbaustrecke Poznań – Sovetsk. From Chernyakhovsk, the new line would again parallel the existing alignment to Kazlų Rūda, 37 km from Kaunas. Here, it would join the proposed high-speed line Warsaw – Kaunas – Riga, and they would form a single HSL into Kaunas. The section from Chernyakhovsk to Kaunas is 150 km long.
At Kaunas (population 300 000, region 675 000) there is one rail line through the city, with only a single track north of the station. There is a short bypass line at the eastern edge. The station location is peripheral, but there is no good alternative site. The new HSL would simply run next to the existing line, with a duplicate bridge over the River Nemunas, and new tunnels on the northern side. For transit freight, the bypass could be retained at Russian-gauge, and parallel tracks provided on the rest of the route through Kaunas.
Kaunas: east-west route in orange…
The HSL to Vilnius would also follow the existing northern exit, and then diverge to run alongside the A1 motorway. It can follow this motorway, and the connecting A1 highway, all the way to the edge of Vilnius, near Paneriai station. From there, it would follow the existing alignment into the main station, about 10 km further. These new tracks would also be used by high-speed trains from Warsaw, via the upgraded Warsaw – St. Petersburg line. The Kaunas – Vilnius section would be about 100 km long.
The main station of Vilnius (population 540 000) lies south of the city centre: as in Kaunas, there is only one line through the city. There is a bypass line, which also starts near Paneriai station, and runs south of the built-up area. Again, Russian gauge could be retained for this line, and the connecting route into Belarus. In effect the Russian-gauge network would begin at Paneriai, or further west if the branch to Grigiškės is extended to connect with the Vilnius line at Rykantai.
Routes through Vilnius: east-west in orange, Warsaw – St. Petersburg in blue, bypass in green…
Because the line through Vilnius is shared by two main routes, four tracks are essential here, even without any new high-speed lines. Six tracks are preferable, on the approaches to the main station, with widened cuttings on the eastern side. East of Vilnius, there would be standard-gauge track to the junction at Naujoji-Vilnia, where the Minsk line splits from the St. Petersburg line. If variable-gauge trains were used for service to Minsk, the gauge change would be here.
The Kaliningrad – Kaunas – Vilnius high-speed route would be about 340 km long, so a journey time of 2 hours 15 minutes should be possible, for the fastest train services.