At the beginning of April, during the OECD International Transport Forum, VAS (State Joint Stock Company) “Latvijas dzelzceļš” (LDz), its subsidiaries SIA (Limited Liability Company) “LDz Loģistika”, and SIA “LDz Cargo”, as well as experts of the State Railway Technical Inspectorate of the Ministry of Transport met the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF) to discuss the challenges faced by the international railway carriage in Europe, including the specifics of its organisation in the territories with the 1435 mm and 1520 mm railway gauge.
OTIF maintains the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF), which Latvia joined in 1999. All in all, COTIF brings together 46 member states, including 26 EU Member States (except Cyprus and Malta). Moreover, the Agreement on International Goods Transport by Rail (SMGS), regulating cooperation with other countries with the 1520 mm railway gauge, is applicable in Latvia.
The President of LDz, Edvīns Bērziņš, during his conversation with the Secretary General of the OTIF, François Davenne, emphasised: “Latvia is a member state of the European Union and OTIF, therefore in its operations it complies with the regulatory framework of these organisations. However, a large part of our operations is still closely connected with the carriage from Russia or through it, therefore the provisions of the SMGS apply, too. In addition, the “Rail Baltica” project will be implemented soon, as a result a completely new and unprecedented infrastructure will be developed. Consequently, we have to find the way how to ensure compliance with the existing regulatory framework and maintain cooperation and digital information exchange in line with unified approach, as, due to the development of international carriage, we realise more and more that we are a part of carriage that includes both systems.”
During the meeting it was emphasised that, since Latvia has joined OTIF, a comparatively small amount of cargo has been carried from the countries of 1435 mm railway gauge, when they are moved on the Baltic railway gauge in Lithuania and the transport documents are processed manually. To facilitate development of this type of carriage, in 2017, cooperation between Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian railway companies was started to ensure more efficient processes.
The Secretary General of OTIF, Davenne, noted: “This is the first such meeting with the Latvian specialists and it is very significant. Our goal is to understand how to develop a successful cooperation between different markets, China, Russia, European Union, from the point of view of legislation, organisation of logistics, and information technologies. It is important to discuss these matters to develop a full cooperation that is favourable for all stakeholders.”
LDz introduced the representatives of OTIF to the opportunities of electronic information exchange which are currently used in the SMGS system with the railways of Russia, Belarus, and Lithuania, as well as in inland carriage. It is possible to implement the electronic document exchange provided in COTIF; however, that requires a joint approach across the whole Baltic region. During the meeting, the parties agreed that such information exchange could be implemented until 2020.
Continuing the negotiation started at the beginning of April, at the end of the month, the representatives of LDz and its subsidiary “LDz Loģistika” will participate in a forum during which the use of railway carriage in transporting postal shipments will be reviewed. The forum is organised by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in cooperation with OTIF.
The goal of OTIF is to improve and simplify the international railway traffic, and improve joint regulations applicable to the international passenger and cargo carriage by railway. OTIF develops consistent legal regimes of the international railway transport for three significant fields of operation: technical interoperability, hazardous cargo, and railway contractual rights.