The 4th edition of the International Rail Freight Conference (IRFC) was successfully held from 12 – 14 March in Prague under the general theme “Eurasia Rail Freight Business”. The conference organised by JERID and Oltis Group took place under the Patronage of the Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic, UIC, OSJD, UNIFE, CER, CCTT and a number of partners including member railways such as RZD, ÖBB, etc.
UIC actively participated in various parts of the conference programme with high-level speakers and the head of the UIC Freight Department as well as experts involved in international rail freight projects. UIC was also present with a stand in the exhibition area (together with RZD, OSJD, ÖBB, etc.).
Mr Vladimir Yakunin, President of JSC Russian Railways (RZD) and UIC Chairman, already participated on 12 March – prior to the IRFC conference – in the Euro-Asia Forum organised in the shape of a high-level round table dedicated to “The key role of Russian Railways in the development of the Euro-Asian Railway Corridors”. Mr Yakunin addressed among other issues the direction of liberalisation of rail transport in Russia, private transport companies and their role in Russia, access to infrastructure, the management of the fleet, the current situation and strategic plans for Russian Railways for the near future with a special focus on the development of Euro-Asia freight corridors.
On 13 March after the IRFC conference opening, UIC Chairman Vladimir Yakunin and Director General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux addressed participants during the high-level session dedicated to “Strategic Directions in Euro-Asian Rail Freight Transport”. This high-level session also included among its speakers Mr Libor Lochman, Executive Director of CER, who addressed the EU Rail Policy Perspectives.
President Vladimir Yakunin focused his speech on “the Role of Russian Railways in Developing the Eurasian Freight Transportation”. He first described the specific characteristics of Russia’s geography with large distances and huge territory, and underlined that the national territory of Russia is actually bound by the railways.
Against this background the West-East and North-South international transit corridors (ITC) play an essential role with, as a backbone, the Trans-Siberian with its 9,288 km – or 24,800 km with three branches. Russian Railways aim to offer complete transport and logistics services. An interesting example of innovating long-distance services using the Trans-Siberian route is the Chongqing (China)-Duisburg (Germany) linking the Far-East of Asia to Europe in 16 days.
President Vladimir Yakunin stressed the importance for UIC in this context to focus activities on international transport corridors, quality of transport, certification and standards.
The UIC’s contribution
Following on from Chairman Yakunin’s speech, UIC Director General Jean-Pierre Loubinoux concentrated his presentation on “The Role of UIC in further Development of Euro-Asian Business”. To start his presentation he stated that one of the key trends of the 21st century dynamic for railways is modal complementarity. The space and finances are no longer available to continue developing modes in competition with each other, either on freight or passenger transport routes. The basic added value that railways bring to society and economy lie in its potential to provide transport with high capacity over long distances, in complete safety, and fully in line with the sustainable transport policies. This entirely fits with the strategy of developing international freight corridors.
As Jean-Pierre Loubinoux further stated, the major corridors that are emerging between East and West are an obvious illustration of this capacity. Currently, economic exchanges between these two parts of the world total around 600 billion USD annually, of which today rail accounts for just 1%! These exchanges will definitively increase, even if the capacity of long trains on the Trans-Siberian route cannot be compared with giant 200,000 tonne container ships. Nevertheless, the development of new rail corridors in several regions of Asia can provide an extremely attractive alternative. Also, when journey times are reduced from 45 days by ship to 20 or even 16 days (Chongqing-Duisburg), the time value becomes extremely significant for goods. In addition, an approach focusing on complementarity and partnership has been adopted to increase cooperation with the shipping lines.
Mr Loubinoux illustrated the geography of international rail corridors that are either in use or being rebuilt on the basis of former rail routes: four corridors run through Russia (East-West and North-South). Particularly promising is the redevelopment of the ancient Silk and Spice Routes. Symbolically, another project – the Marmaray Project – to build a tunnel crossing the Bosphorus in Turkey, will create extremely promising opportunities in allowing direct traffic between Europe, Asia the Middle-East.
Progress towards the implementation of such intercontinental corridors is not restricted to building infrastructure or to technical equipment. It implies administrative follow-up, legal harmonisation, customs traceability, modern, real time IT monitoring using the most up-to-date technology. UIC closely liaises on these issues with OTIF and OSJD, to ensure effective harmonisation at world level.
Finally, the key to the development of these international/intercontinental corridors lies in increased capacity, improved reliability (including maintenance and time timetables), safety and security, interoperability of signalling systems (possibility of using satellite positioning in low density areas), improvement in LCC, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
UIC is active in most of these technical cooperation fields. Also, through its ICOMOD and IMPORT projects, UIC is attempting to involve the maximum number of member railways, both in Europe and in Asia, as well as in the Middle-East, to help them to meet their own challenges and benefit from the prospects of international corridor development.
During this 4th International Rail Freight Conference in Prague, Dr Miklos Kopp, Director of the UIC Freight Department presented “The Role of UIC in developing Intercontinental Rail Freight” with a focus on UIC projects, in particular the ICOMOD project. Mrs Sandra Gehenot, UIC Senior Freight Advisor, gave a presentation of the “UIC’s 2012 Report on Combined Transport in Europe” (a report available from UIC).