Sunday, June 21, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
The idea of connecting the Baltic rail system to the rest of Europe is circulating already for a decade. So far the main problem was considered gauge differences between Poland (1435mm) and the Baltic states (1520mm) and - at least politicians – see the idea of building a 1435mm gauge from the border of Poland further to the north reasonable. In European Parliament election 2009 just one political party did put a single phrase about Rail Baltica project in their program: ‘We are supporting this project because it will allow reaching Berlin within 10 hours from Riga by train’. I voted for them although I knew that an aircraft reaches Berlin in 1hour and 35minutes and their statement just proved that Rail Baltic - as presented so far - is not a runner.
Rail Range – 3.5 Hours
Projects in Europe show that most passengers prefer train rather than plane if travel time on train is no longer than 3 – 3.5h. The current record of system-wide average speed 279.4 km/h is set by French TGV. If we suppose that a new system with average speed of 280 km/h is built the maximum travel range of 980km is set. The further city reachable from Tallinn would be Warsaw (air service dropped in 2008); from Riga – Poznan (no direct service); from Kaunas and Vilnius – Berlin (no direct service, just connections at RIX, CPH, WAW).
Building the Earth's best standard gauge high-speed rail line trough Poland and the Baltic states would result in attracting passengers from Warsaw to Vilnius, Kaunas, Riga and Tallinn - whith all currently have a poor air service and few daily (2 to 3) coach service. Berlin - one of the busiest air routes out of RIX – would see no impact. More real average speed v=180 km/h would give feasible connections just from Warsaw to Kaunas and Riga. I strongly doubt Baltic States need such multi-billion project to ease connection in very limited city pairs in North – South axis.
Rail Baltica as Baltic Domestic System
Rather than spending billions for building totally new and separate 1435mm tracks I advise building 1520mm high-speed lines for local use. The biggest problem in the Baltic railways is lack of direct lines between capitals. Riga-Tallinn rail route take a long detour trough Tartu (30% longer than the direct highway); Riga-Vilnius take detour trough Šaulai and Kaunas with make the route 20% longer then the direct highways. I propose new Rail Baltica concept in 4 stages.
Stage 1: Jonava to Panavėžys. This line ads the missing connection from Panavėžys to Vilnius, Kaunas and further south – Marijampolė and Alytus. As Panavėžys is the 4th city in Lithuania considerable flows can be attracted to the two biggest cities in Lithuania.
Stage 2: Panavėžys to Riga. This section includes optional stops at Pasvalys, Bauska and Iecava. As Riga is the biggest city in the region business and tourism traffic will be attracted and induced. If RIX south and/or north rail link is built - this line can beat BT’s feeder routes from VNO and KUN. Nonstop services from Lithuania are possible to Jūrmala, Ventspils, and Tartu. Stage 1 and 2 is to be the most important rail corridor in the Baltic region because it connects the most populous cities.
Stage 3: Tallinn to Pärnu. Existing rail service is extremely poor – serious upgrades and new sections are required. Pärnu can be connected to North-East region.
Stage 4: Riga to Pärnu. New line needed at least between Saulkrasti and Pärnu. This line would attract all Riga- Tallinn passenger traffic and could provide direct service from Tallinn to various cities in Latvia and Lithuania.
Broad gauge Rail Baltica would not require extremely expensive new tracks in mayor cities but uses the existing infrastructure. High speed passenger lines differ from classic lines with bigger radii (~7km) of curves, advanced catenary and signaling systems. If a new line is built it must correspond to highest geometrical and track standards – the rest can be installed later and speed increased gradually. Train sets must go on two voltage standards (3kV DC in Riga and Tallinn; 25kV AC in Vilnius – Kaunas route and new high-speed lines) – alternatively - 3kV DC can be substituted with diesel generators. Furthermore - more expensive dual gauge train sets could still cross the Polish border and reach Warsaw.
Freight trains require smaller slope gradients but this seems not to be a problem in the flat terrain of the Baltic States. Freight must be reloaded regardless on location of reloading terminal – weather in Tallinn, Riga and Kaunas as in 1435mm proposal – or near the Polish border in case of 1520mm gauge tracks.
I hope the policy-makers will leave their ambition of building standard gauge railway across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as it would be very unflexible and expensive. Intra-Baltic network can give bigger benefits with lower cost.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Riga airport is so tiny that getting from one gate to another takes no more than a few minutes and bit longer if passport control needed. For airBaltic that allows selling tickets with transfer time of 25 minutes - with makes total flight time comparable - in some city pairs - with direct service in and allows more flights to be connected. Lost baggage numbers are not published so far. In future airport wants to keep transfer times in the same level but it may harder to manage if new terminals is added.
In comparison with year 2007 schedule is re-arranged to allow selling more connecting flights especially to and from Northern Europe.
In summer 2008 airBaltic faced a decrease of 15-minute on-time performance down to 75% in August. In autumn situation gradually became better and reached record-high 94.2% on-time performance in May 2009. Furthermore some feeder operations in group 4 now backup group 5 in case of flights from group 2 being late.
In May airBaltic launched a business lounge at RIX (in reality – took over the only existing one) to attract more high-end passengers. And - even better - a portable entertainment system is for rent onboard flights longer than 3 hours.
Current flight group 5 allows operations for up to 15h whith - together with 45min turnaround - allows to reach airports within 5700km - with is not enough to reach airports in the Fare East or in North America. For longer flights exist two options: 1st – to depart after group 2 arrives and arrive before groups 3 and 5 depart. This will work well if groups 3 and 5 are upgraded with second daily flights to West Europe destinations (MUC, CDG, AMS etc); 2nd option – departure after groups 1 and 5 arrive and return next day before group 2 depart. This requires upgrades of groups 1 and - again - 5. As group 3 is currently more developed than group 1 - first option is more reasonable. Booth options gives range of 8500km with is enough to reach all Asian cities (except Singapore) and US East coast cities.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The Key - New Rail Terminus
Friday, June 5, 2009
Price Leader in June – Skyways, in September - airBaltic
In order to inspect availability of lowest fares different numbers of passengers was entered in booth booking systems. This makes possible to find prices of up to 9 next tickets. A date (8 September) was selected to ensure that a very limited number of bookings are done. Skyways booking system showed a bad surprise – just seven tickets still available for €132 – 8th ticket cost €453 which is about the same level of airBaltic’s business-class tickets. The same fare was found on many other dates (but not all) in June, August, September and October. In the same time airBaltic offer 5 tickets for €85 (evening flight) and the rest for €114.