UIC’s Regional Assembly for Middle East and the UIC Freight department held a virtual seminar on 14 October to discuss the opportunities and challenges inherent in a corridor approach to boost long-distance and transcontinental freight development. More than 60 participants from three UIC regions (Europe, Middle East and Asia-Pacific) attended the seminar, which was moderated by Philip Van Den Bosch, Senior Advisor at UIC. Various high-level representatives from Middle Eastern and European rail operators also attended the event.
Ms Sandra Géhénot, Director of the UIC Freight department, welcomed participants on behalf of Mr François Davenne, UIC Director General. She acknowledged that “despite the difficult conditions, collaboration and cooperation on concrete topics is stronger”. Ms Géhénot outlined reasons to focus on international freight corridors and the importance of their growth at global level. Drawing on a recent exercise performed by the Rail Freight Forward Coalition (RFF), managed by UIC, she explained how corridors can be a vector to drive modal shift and address environmental concerns. She added that the UIC Freight Forum was at hand to support the various regions. Such support is tailored to specific needs, and ranges from implementation of operational solutions to implementation of a cross-border drive-through philosophy, which is required to position rail as a key partner in modern supply chains.
Mr Morteza Jafari, Vice President for Commerce and Operation at RAI, gave an opening speech highlighting the importance of corridors and rail freight transport. He placed great value on the seminar and expressed his wish for concrete output and solid deliverables resulting in even greater cooperation with the Freight department.
This was followed by a presentation by Turkish Railways (TCDD), the UIC office in Tehran, and the Iranian railways, highlighting activities and challenges in the region and ways in which operators are implementing corridors and connections between neighboring countries in challenging contexts, particularly in light of the current Covid-19 crisis.
During the first part of the event, UNECE and the World Customs Organization outlined the concept and added value of a corridor structure and corridor management to foster operational interoperability and boost transcontinental freight. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate success factors for international rail corridors. Mr Roel Janssens, representing UNECE, gave an interesting presentation on boosting transport links in the Eurasian region and improving corridors so that they meet market requirements. Ms Satoko Kagawa of the WCO presented transit guidelines to simplify railway customs in railway transport and opened a discussion on digitalisation as a key enabler to improve intercontinental and multimodal traffic flows.
An insight into EU regulation and how the European rail freight corridors can contribute to driving modal shift was then provided by Joost Overdijkink of UIC. He explained how corridors can help to support freight in Europe and the importance of harmonisation. A concrete business example of a carrier operating globally was provided by Rafi Papo of Rail Cargo Austria. He presented Rail Cargo’s intermodal transport business and services and how these rely on a network and hub concept.
The second part of the event focused on specific operational improvements to facilitate border crossings and reduce waiting times. Sven Seligmann of DB Cargo reported on a topical European use case showing how harmonisation of braking regimes across countries has a direct impact on capacity availability and quality of service.
Ms Ekaterina Kozyreva of IEC Consulting provided additional insight into corridor development from the angle of digitalisation.
Mr Talib Javad Kadhim, Director General of Iraqi Railways, provided information on current regional developments, and offered an excellent example of activities currently underway in Iraq: projects linking key ports, supported by MoUs and bilateral agreements at the highest political level. A railway link is being developed between Iraq and Jordan as part of a railway project to develop the Rotba - West Ramadi - Trebeeil - Jordanian border route, with a further link being developed between Iraq and Turkey as part of plans to develop the Mosul-Dohuk - Zakho - Turkish border route.
Summarising the main outputs from the seminar, Ms Géhénot welcomed the concrete partnership opportunities it had offered and committed to continued development of a joint freight programme with RAME and to actively support the activities of the WCO and UNECE.
Mr Jerzy Wisniewski, UIC Middle East Region Coordinator, expressed his gratitude to all of the participants. He also conveyed best wishes from UIC’s Director General, Mr François Davenne, who unfortunately had been unable to attend. Mr Wisniewski reiterated that the contributions to the webinar were greatly appreciated, and that strong follow-up would be essential.
The event aligns closely with the RAME work programme and is part of interregional cooperation efforts, strengthened recently by UIC to enlarge its audience and involve a wider spectrum of participants. Numerous members from the Asia-Pacific region attended this particular event. Mr Wisniewski encouraged UIC members to take part in UIC events and seminars in greater numbers, to participate actively in working groups and, most importantly, to work with UIC on projects.