International Transport Forum

2012 Annual Summit / Seamless Transport:Making Connections



Seamless international carriage by rail

Stefan Schimming, Secretary General of the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF)

First of all, it should be clear to readers that in the framework of this forum, only “seamless transport” in terms of a geographical range that is as “global” as possible can be discussed. Part of this is the possibly mundane reflection that at the heart of freight transport is the will of peoples and economies to build up, stabilise and develop national prosperity through trade. So the worldwide physical transport links are “only” the materialised consequence of this, and are therefore necessary “tools”, motivated by business economics and trade policy, used to transport goods.

When governments and intergovernmental organisations are creating the conditions whereby “seamless” transport can take place, this more global dimension also requires that efficient regulations be set up at an appropriate level of international law. Such regulations cannot be based on individual national standards, but must contain pragmatic measures which, with realistic sums invested, can be effective, and they must be supported by the motivation to achieve improvements.

If the political will is to promote trade and the long-distance transport of goods by rail between, for example, Europe and Asia, it is no secret that the competitiveness required in rail transport can only be achieved by making it reliable. The customer and the carrier must be able to rely not just on the delivery time, but also on being able to calculate reliably and predictably all the transport costs that will be incurred. At present, based on the so-called SCOR-Model (Supply Chain Operations Reference-Model), comparative calculations can only be produced between the maritime and air transport modes. In so doing, factors such as the time (transport, duration of customs handling procedures, etc.) and the transport costs are transparently included and are used as the basis for deciding which mode to use.

In rail transport, there is primarily a lack of transparency and legal certainty in the individual processing procedures at border crossings (especially at so-called “transit borders”). In this connection, an agreement under international law to formulate and promulgate the law transparently, where available, seems to be an economically interesting and natural first step in order to remove obstacles to border crossing in the shortest possible time.

This is precisely the task that COTIF (Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail) imposes on me as the Secretary General of the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail, OTIF.