The first railway in Lithuania opened in the 1860s between Daugavpils (Latvia) and Vilnius, part of a planned through route between St Petersburg (Russia) and Warsaw (Poland). At that time, the entire route was effectively under Russian control, so the line was built to the Russian gauge of 1524mm.
During both the First and Second World Wars, Lithuania came under German occupation. Between the wars, it was an independent state but, after the Second World War, Lithuania again came within the Russian sphere of influence. The country declared its independence in 1990, foreshadowing the breakup of the Soviet Union.
During the First World War, the Germans regauged most of the main lines to standard (1435mm) gauge. However, unlike the situation in neighbouring Latvia, these remained standard gauge in the period between the wars. Only when Lithuania came under Soviet influence following the Second World War were all the main lines converted back to Russian gauge. For the most part, they retain this gauge today, although a few standard or dual gauge routes enter the country from Poland to facilitate the interchange of international freight traffic
Detail planning and construction is under way on a projected new standard (1435mm) gauge passenger and freight railway which will connect Lithuania with the standard gauge network of Poland and the rest of western and central Europe. The line will extend to Latvia and Estonia. An initial section reaching Kaunas from the Polish frontier opened in 2021. The line is expected to be wholly completed by around 2026.
© 2004-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Robertas Šalčiūnas from the Railcolor News website