Making international freight products and services more competitive by harmonising business, operational and information processes

One of the UIC Freight department’s primary objectives is to increase members’ revenue by improving the competitiveness of international products and services. A further objective is to reduce costs by harmonising international business, operational and information processes. UIC also contributes to the development of freight corridors and reinforcement of customers’ confidence in rail transport.
These objectives are achieved:

  • by strengthening UIC’s position as a key facilitator and a neutral platform for multilateral cooperation between UIC members,
  • by facilitating knowledge transfer among members and from other industries through benchmarking, workshops and conferences, and
  • by establishing permanent links with strategic partners in the supply chain (intermodal operators, freight forwarders, etc.).

General context of the business activity

Freight transport accounts for 6% of European GDP, with over 19 billion tonnes of goods transported every year. While the sector’s overall contribution to the economy is positive, it has a substantial impact on the environment. 75% of all freight transport is currently performed by road, with an estimated annual emission of 275 million tonnes of CO2. This represents 30% of total transport emissions for all freight and passenger transport. Freight transport is expected to grow 30% by 2030. This growth will add around one million trucks to European roads over the next decade. Looking beyond Europe, the tremendous growth potential offered by landbridges is evident. Rail has a crucial role to play in building a more sustainable freight sector.
In order to proactively drive modal shift, the Rail Freight Forward (RFF) coalition, representing approximately 90% of European rail freight, issued a White Paper in 2018 and launched a series of priority projects to improve border crossing in particular. These projects form part of UIC Freight’s work program.
With the momentum given by the Green Deal and to support the European Commission objective to transform Europe into the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, RFF identified 5 interlinked technologies which require a coordinated, sector-wide rollout across the EU. These technologies, which constitute the RFF 2.0 strategy, are: Digital Automatic Coupling, Digital Platform, ERTMS, ATO, Digital Capacity Management.

Reference to how the business is organised

Overview of the Freight Forum (2015)
Overview of the Freight Forum (2015)

UIC Freight activities and projects are steered through two main bodies, the Steering Committee and the Freight Forum. The Freight Forum is chaired by Clemens Först (Rail Cargo Austria).
The working bodies and projects address the following priorities identified by members:

  • Improving interoperability
  • Continuing to ensure the highest levels of safety and security
  • Integrating innovation and digitalisation as a means of improving productivity
  • Capitalising on the corridor concept as a unique vector for implementation.

Key activities

Increasing modal share
The rail freight sector is a structural element of world trade. Russia currently holds 60% of total modal share, with China and the USA accounting for 50% and 55%, respectively. The European context is more difficult, with market share stagnating at approximately 18%. Thus, in 2018, the European “Rail Freight Forward” initiative was launched. UIC’s Freight department also contributed to the development of a white paper, “30 by 2030”, outlining the sector’s vision to drive modal shift towards rail for the benefit of society. This vision was endorsed by all participants at the High Level Freight Meeting (HLFM), an annual meeting of European freight sector CEOs organised in cooperation with CER, in May 2018 and led to the development and implementation of a targeted communications campaign around the “Noah’s Train” initiative, along with the development of a work programme to support the objectives set out in the white paper.

Interoperability: drive-through philosophy
The Freight department’s “Xborder” project was launched to develop a “quick win” solution for harmonisation of driver language and operational issues in cross-border traffic. The first phase of the project involved an analysis of the handover process for freight trains at three specific border points. This gave rise to a clear set of recommendations and concrete proposals for improving operational processes in cross-border areas, focusing mainly on cross-border operations and issues relating to driver language and train characteristics.

A list of 99 predefined messages in English, Italian, French, German and Dutch are now being tested on pilot trains. The project is being implemented in collaboration with RailNetEurope (RNE) to ensure that the initiatives led by RUs and IMs are compatible and complement each another.

Safety and security
The Agreement on Freight Train Transfer Inspections (ATTI) is a UIC special group with members from both UIC and non-UIC railway undertakings. It has developed a set of rules to simplify the transfer of wagons between parties whilst ensuring the highest possible level of safety. Since June 2014, the initial group of 44 participants has grown to 107 members, and a quality monitoring system has been put in place. The first pilot database of quality indicators for ATTI members began on 1 January 2018. The items monitored include: wagon technical conditions as per Appendix 9 of the GCU, train formation and adherence to schedule (from 2019), dangerous goods (from 2019).

Loading rules
UIC’s Loading Guidelines are a set of national and international regulations for loading goods in railway transport. They describe binding rules and stipulations wagon use, capacity utilisation and load dimensions.

The guidelines constitute an extremely valuable intangible asset, shared between all the stakeholders involved. The experts involved in the dedicated UIC study group work to ensure that the guidelines are up-to-date and compliant with evolving legislation. They are available online from the ETF shop.

A new vision for the rail freight industry needs to be developed if it is to be competitive in the 21st century. The road sector is continuously pushing the limits of technology, and the rail freight sector needs to adopt a similar approach. The ”30 by 2030” white paper for rail freight outlines one of the three key levers for achieving modal shift.

The railway sector needs to become more customer-focused and competitive and must continue to develop multimodal services. Certain processes and solutions need to be implemented on a collaborative basis to increase consistency, efficiency and transparency by means of enhanced data exchange.

By exchanging information in this way, the sector can expect to achieve the following:

  • Significant cost reduction by reducing manual data acquisition efforts and by using standard data formats
  • Greater customer satisfaction due to improved information quality
  • Optimised dispatching and more effective provision of information to customers due to simplified data capture processes
  • Improved quality of operations due to reduction of data errors and alignment of systems

UIC’s “Digital roadmap for rail freight” strategy was launched in 2018 with a series of workshops attended by European freight sector CIOs. The roadmap will be reviewed by freight sector CEOs at their annual meeting in Paris in May 2019. Discussions on the roadmap have also highlighted the added value offered by existing freight sector tools such as Raildata. UIC’s Raildata special group provides IT applications and related services in the field of rail freight transport.

Freight corridors
The need to harmonise rail freight corridor access has become urgent for railway undertakings under pressure to implement productivity enhancements. At the request of its RU members, UIC coordinates the harmonisation process through the ECCO (Efficient Cross Corridor Organisation) project. ECCO provides technical input on some of the priority issues contained in the sector statement (SS), which represents the commitment made by the sector to boost international rail freight in the context of 11 priorities. The main priorities addressed in 2018 were:

  • SS Priority 5: Improving harmonisation of border processes
  • SS Priority 9: Monitoring the quality of freight services by implementing shared KPIs
  • SS Priority 11: Contingency management

UIC’s work on freight corridors is not confined to Europe. In 2017, a study was commissioned from Roland Berger to assess the viability of the Eurasian rail freight routes, including the southern routes, and interconnection of these corridors with the European RFCs. The study identified a number of drivers and actions for the various stakeholders in the transport chain, which serve as a basis for the Freight department’s plans in relation to this topic.

In 2018, activities were focused mainly on:

  • strengthening links and improving synergies with the work carried out in the UIC regions (Asia-Pacific and Middle East), thus offering freight expertise to the regions. In this context, the UIC Freight department played an active role at the Middle East Assembly in Ankara, which focused on transcontinental corridor development. The Freight department also contributed to the Asian Assembly workshop in Bangkok on digitalisation of freight transport.
  • developing and strengthening partnerships, in particular with CCTT, CIT, the Region of Zhengzhou and other associations.

Dangerous goods
The transport of dangerous goods (TDG) is subject to specific regulatory measures. This area is managed by UIC in close consultation with its members and in cooperation with other stakeholders.

The rules and regulations for transport of dangerous goods are updated on an ongoing basis in order to take account of experience and new types of goods arriving on the market. Harmonisation of rules across various modes of transport is becoming increasingly important in the context of growth in both international trade and multimodal and intermodal transport.

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Tuesday 13 October 2020