The strong economy and administrative power of the ancient Roman Empire was basing enormously on the ability to provide a good road network across its empire. Troops could march fast on these streets strengthening the borders or regain control of a rebellious province, just like merchants were able to transport safely and fast their goods between cities and provinces. These roads showed the difference to many other ancient empires and even later empires. The sufficient road network led to the feeling of a smaller world and showed even poorer people that every spot of the empire is reachable and the same road in front of the house leads to these distant locations. One of the most important roads in the ancient Italian peninsula was the Via Appia, leading from Brindisi to the capital Rome. Its importance is shown especially by its byname as “Regina Viarum” – queen of the roads. For the northeast Europe the Via Baltica is today as important as the Via Appia was to Rome in the ancient times.
The road to Baltic
The Via Baltica refers to the European road E67 and not to the old pilgrim path in northern Germany. The E67 starts (or ends) in Prague and goes over Warsaw to Kaunas, Riga, Talling and finally ends in Helsinki. As this road is connecting eastern Scandinavia and the Baltic states with central Europe it is well known as the most important road for goods transported via trucks. The whole road is approximately 1,700 km long and recently I had the chance to use it personally. During the ride I made several observations, which I will present in the next sentences.
The Via Baltic
The quality of the streets changes very often. While the streets after Warsaw (I started my journey in Warsaw) were mostly made for one lane in each direction and often crossed towns, villages and small settlements that required a slower driving, the situation changed in Lithuania. The streets were either constructed with an additional half-lane that helped to pass trucks, or sometimes even with a second lane or leading to a highway. In Latvia and Estonia almost all streets had an additional half-lane. Another observation that could be made was that most drivers (especially truck drivers) not really cared about speed limits, even though the police seemed to be very active in Poland and Lithuania by using many speed radars and also many police patrols.
The result can be seen definitely in high numbers of accidents in 2014 as Poland (84 dead per million), Lithuania (90 dead per million) and Latvia (105 dead per million) show the highest amount of road fatalities in the whole European Union. Although the speeding and the half-lanes can’t be made 100% responsible for the high number of accidents, there are definitely links between these facts. Nevertheless another observation kept my attention and is likely also adding to the number of accidents: Most of streets in Baltic have deep cart ruts in the asphalt, which are due to the huge amount of trucks on the streets.
All hail to the road
The freight goods which are transported via streets are extraordinary high in Poland and in the Baltics and therefore it’s not a surprise that the streets are highly occupied by trucks. A short look on the freight statistics show that except Latvia, all Baltic states (and Poland) mainly depend on the road and not on trains when it comes to transporting of goods.
|ROAD FREIGHT||RAIL FREIGHT||GROWTH in Road freigt 2013-14|
Numbers from 2014 in tonne-kilometres (tkm)
The numbers show that not just that trucks are very important for the economy, but also that in all countries the transport on the road has increased a lot from 2013 to 2014. Although the newest numbers for 2015 and 2016 are not available yet, it is very likely that they will grow again. While in 2014 Poland could defend its positions as the second largest freight transport country, Latvia and Lithuania showed the biggest growth in freight transport. As these numbers are growing so will do also traffic on the roads, the pollution and the accidents.
On the tracks for solution
Already long time ago the European Union supported the idea of a railroad leading from Tallinn through the Baltic states till the Lithuanian-Polish border. The Rail Baltica will cost in total around 3.6 billion euros and will be financed half by the European Union and half by Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. According to the European Union it is one of the priority projects to connect northern Europe to central and Western Europe, but nevertheless it was several times postponed due to money and administrative reasons. And indeed the Rail Baltic project has some enthusiastic ideas like carrying goods and persons cheaper and faster across the countries. Within two hours a person will be able to travel from Tallinn to Riga instead of four hours in a tight and uncomfortable bus. This argument becomes even more evident if it is considered that every day around 3.000 people travel between Tallinn and Riga. A strong argument especially from Estonia is that there is actually a rail connection between Tallinn and Moscow existing, but there is not even one train connection from Tallinn to any capital of a member state of the European Union. A functioning railway to Poland (and therefore to Czech Republic, Germany, central and western Europe in total) could lead to more tourists, less pollution, safer and less crowded streets and in general would bring Europe closer together. While planning has mostly finished, the construction will begin in 2017 or 2018 and finally finish in the years between 2022 and 2025. The lack and confusion of informations on several homepages show that the planning phase hasn’t ended and that there are still doubts and uncertainness. The legislators, deciders and responsible persons have to show that the Rail Baltic is not just an economic project, but that it will save and improve lives and life quality in a longterm!
European lifeline in a time of Euroscepticism
In the ancient times of the Roman Empire the Via Appia was the life vessel for the eternal city and southern Italy. The Via Baltic and even more the Rail Baltica could become a Via Appia for the Baltics. Especially in a time of Euroscepticism and growing Nationalism the construction of an easier path between countries can lead to a better understanding of each other, a better understanding between countries that were historically, economically and politically linked. A railway that will create jobs for transport, storages, factories, train stations – a railway that could cheaply bring Germans within 10 hours to Riga and Estonians within 4 hours to Poland – a railway that will connect the borders of the European Union with the heartlands will not just bring more prosperity, not just make travelling easier, but will show a statement, that the Baltic countries belong unchangeably to Europe and Europe belongs to them. Just like the roman roads assisted to the economic, administrative and social power of the Roman Empire, the Via Baltic and even more the Rail Baltica will empower the European feeling and strengthen the connection between the people of Europe.