Europe-Asia Rail Link: One Step Closer?

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.

Long Haul

A uniform, legal rail regime would take years to put together but could eventually present a cost-effective alternative to air and ship cargo.

A uniform, legal rail regime would take years to put together but could eventually present a cost-effective alternative to air and ship cargo.

Right conditions
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.

Business opportunities
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?

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8 comments on “Europe-Asia Rail Link: One Step Closer?

  1. Cryptoman
    April 16, 2013

    A railway freight system between Europe and Asia is a great idea in terms of speed of delivery at significantly reduced costs.

    However, I have concerns over the standardisation of the security and the safety checks of the cargo in different countries. There has to be a watertight auditing and control system in place to ensure that the required standard is met end-to-end. As the number of stops for loading and unloading along the route increases the security risks and the difficulty of effective policing will also increase.

    Railways are more challenging than ship and plane freights in terms of security as the defined route is much more exposed to human penetration and uncontrolled access.


  2. Mr. Roques
    April 16, 2013

    What are other issues regarding regulation? Are the rails any different? Does it have to do with customs? Also, is this going to be a private or public initiative? Probably a PPP.

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 17, 2013

    I also feel that for a rail freight system , the security is the biggest threat. Like those infamous Somalian pirates on the sea, such a rail route has every chance of having some unsafe territories .

    Such rail system should have container like structure the same that is now followed for Ship and road transport. This will make sure that goods will reach the destination without being exposed to frequent handling, tampering and customs checks at various borders.

    April 17, 2013

    If there were a decent rail frieght system between Europe and Asia it would be a real boon for many businesses.  Sea takes too long and air is too expensive.  Roll on the rail network. 

  5. Ariella
    April 17, 2013

    @prabhakar_deosthali but wouldn't each country want the right to check and demand custom clearance? Otherwise, that form of conveyance would be very tempting for smugglers.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 18, 2013


    What I meant was that the customs clearance should not be necessary for the goods which are just transiting through a country . The customs clearance should be anyway mandatory at the point of loading of the goods and at the point of unloading the goods.

  7. Ariella
    April 18, 2013

    yes, but if one can be sure of getting through other countries unchecked, it can open some opportunities. It reminds me of some of the plots to sneak people or contraband goods across European borders. 

  8. Mr. Roques
    April 19, 2013

    I don't know if a country is willing to look the other way, even if the container is only transiting. The security implications are too high.

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