The idea of connecting Europe and Asia with a uniform freight railway system recently took another step forward.
Representatives of 37 countries signed a joint declaration on rail transport a few weeks ago. The declaration "could pave the way towards negotiation of a unified railway law (URL) making rail freight transport first between Asia and Europe, and later in the whole world easier, faster and cheaper," the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said in a press release. Countries along various rail lines in Europe and Asia will "work together to establish unified legal conditions for railways that are equivalent with those existing already for many years for other modes (road, air, inland water and sea)."
Any uniform rail regime would take many years to assemble, but it could eventually present the electronics supply chain a cost-effective alternative to putting cargo on planes and ships. Also, a better land route between economically important European and Asian markets could become more significant as manufacturing in Europe moves farther east and Asian manufacturing migrates inland to places like western China.
A uniform, legal rail regime would take years to put together but could eventually present a cost-effective alternative to air and ship cargo.
As the Railway Gazette reported (quoting from the declaration itself), the ultimate goal is "to establish 'a unified set of transparent and predictable' legal conditions for international rail freight transport 'from the Atlantic to the Pacific', equivalent to the regimes for competing road, air and water transport."
The Railway Gazette notes that the signatories are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Achieving these goals would be a notable step forward. UNECE said in the release that several countries, incluing Bulgaria, Iran, Romania, and Russia, "are currently obliged to operate with two different legal systems" (the countries' rules and the broader regional rules). This means different legal and administrative standards are applied, and higher costs are incurred.
With a blanket agreement spanning Europe and Asia, transportation officials could start working toward standard legal objectives and rules that would allow "transport of cargo and containers by rail across countries with a single transport contract, a single consignment note and under a single liability and claims system," UNECE said. "It would thus provide railways with new options to reach out to transcontinental traffic and to turn Euro-Asian transport market opportunities into rail business."
Legal and transportation experts plan to hold additional meetings this year and next. UNECE said any resulting legal instrument "could become applicable world-wide."
How would a unified Europe-Asia rail system affect your logistics operations?