Baltic Railways Magazine 8 contained an article from Philip Wormald about his visit with PTG Tours to Estonia in the summer of 2011. BRMs 1 and 3 featured the appeal of the Siarukas in Lithuania for tourists. Likewise BRM4 did the same for the Banitis in Latvia. I have visited Lithuania many times since 2003, and in 2008 was on an enthusiasts tour of railway depots and workshops in Latvia and Lithuania, and hope to do the same in 2012 but including Estonia and Norway.
The idea of people, other than the professionals who run the railways, taking an interest in railways as a hobby, is an alien concept to a population that lived for over fifty years under the control of the Soviet Union. As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, railways were of strategic (military) importance, so taking an interest in railways (as enthusiasts in Britain and other countries do) was regarded as spying. Clearly a rather dangerous hobby.
The outcome is that visitors to the Baltic States find that the rail travel needs of railway enthusiasts and tourists cannot be met. The biggest problem is the lack of passenger trains on many of the routes. The PTG Tours visit was made by hired trains, an expensive but necessary expedient. My visit in 2008 with the Rail Europe Railway Enthusiasts Club was made by hired minibus, as will be the forthcoming tour in 2012. In other travels in Latvia and Lithuania, I have twice had to get from Riga to Panevėžys; easy if you look at the map, but there are no trains over the border, and only two trains per day between Šiauliai and Panevėžys (and that service I have read, is threatened with withdrawal). So you have no choice but to go by bus or car!…More in BRM9.