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UNECE supports countries to operationalize Euro-Asian inland transport ‎corridors

UNECE supports countries to operationalize Euro-Asian inland transport ‎corridors

Making the most of regionally and internationally available standards, instruments and technologies can make a critical difference in strengthening the security of inland transport systems in Eurasia. It can also enable efficient international, multi-modal transport operations and the smooth processing of freight flows between the two continents, catalyzing sustainable economic growth for the 2030 Agenda.

This was the focus of an expert meeting in Tbilisi last week, co-organized by UNECE and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with the support of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia.

Over 40 security experts and officials from ministries of transport, economy, trade, customs committees and other relevant agencies as well as road and railway transport operators, infrastructure operators, shipping companies and logistics providers from across the Euro-Asian region participated in the event.  Participants took stock of both “at” and “behind” the border measures in support of international supply chain security and transport facilitation, such as the use of customs risk management systems, techniques for profiling of suspicious cargo flows, exchange of preliminary customs information and the introduction of regional transit regimes. 

Participants also discussed how administrative bottlenecks on Euro-Asian inland transport routes can be solved through corridor specific regulatory coordination and harmonization efforts. They exchanged views on the many benefits related to the introduction of a unified railway regulatory regime, and the use of a harmonized road transport consignment note such as CMR and its electronic variant eCMR. The possible use of the TIR/ eTIR for multi-modal transport operations across Euro-Asian corridors was also discussed alongside cyber threats, which pose a growing danger to increasingly digitalized inland transport systems.

Didem Dirlik, representative of the Ministry of Trade of Turkey and Chair of the TIR ExB said “Though the TIR transit system is mostly known for road transport it allows for the inter-modal transport of goods provided that at least one leg of the journey is carried out by road”.  She added “At the moment, TIR is most frequently used in inter-modal operations on Ro-Ro transport through ferry services, however the interest and volumes of transport of containers under TIR is growing and there is also a potential to use it for the movement of containers by rail and in maritime transport”.

“Connectivity is not only about physical infrastructure, regulatory and administrative barriers. It is also about addressing safety and security issues in order to ensure uninterrupted international transport and trade,” mentioned Ketevan Salukvadze, the Head of Transport and Logistics Development Policy Department of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia. “We should also not forget the importance of modern technologies. Application of e-documents, IT solutions, corridor management systems including in-time tracking and tracing is key for effective and efficient supply chain management." 

The Tbilisi expert meeting gathering representatives of EATL countries in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Eastern Europe, the EU, China and Mongolia took place in the framework of the UNECE’s Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) initiative. Konstantinos Alexopoulos, Chief, Transport Facilitation and Economics Section at the Sustainable Transport Division of UNECE said: “UNECE’s EATL project brings together over 38 countries. It shows that road and rail transportation along Euro-Asian corridors is supplementing rather than competing with maritime transport. These road and railway networks provide a cost-effective solution for high value and time-sensitive cargo, especially in the context of growing e-commerce between China and Europe.”

Supporting improved Euro-Asian transport infrastructure and connectivity

Over the last two decades, the EATL initiative achieved impressive results, including, the identification and prioritization of 9 rail and road routes, 17 water transport links, 53 inland and 70 maritime ports which can be divided across several geographical clusters:

  • EATL rail routes 1, 2 and 6 connecting China – Mongolia – Kazakhstan – Russian Federation – Belarus and Poland which currently feature the highest concentration of block trains on EATL routes, mostly operated by large freight forwarders with an average cargo travel time of approximately 14 days.  Challenges faced by these routes include the difficult climatic conditions, the lack of an agreed transit tariff and the need to increase the number of container platforms and the length of block trains. EATL Rail Route 2 spanned over 8,000 km from the eastern borders of the European Union (Belarus and Ukraine) across the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Eastern China to the ports of Lianyungang and Shanghai.  As the EATL Phase III report show-cases, in 2015, 1,269 container trains transited on EATL routes 1 and 2. The number of runs increased by 255 trains compared to 2014 (25 per cent more), including 581 block trains China – Europe – China representing an increase by 327 trains (or by 2.2 times).

  • EATL rail routes 3, 4 and 7 connecting China – Central Asia Republics – Turkey – Romania and Ukraine face challenges related to missing infrastructure links, as well as the need for increased cooperation among railway undertakings in order to perform block train operations (common tariffs and time schedules).  Route 3 has two ferry crossings, (a) from Constanta (Romanian Black Sea coast) to the ports of Batumi or Poti (Georgia) and (b) from the port of Alat on the Caspian Sea (Azerbaijan) to the ports of Aktau and Kuryk (Kazakhstan, which in 2016 completed the construction of a new railway line Borzhakty-Ersai (length 16.6 km) to Kuryk).

  • EATL routes 5, 8 and 9 connecting Afghanistan/ Iran – South Caucasus – Central Asia Republics South Caucasus – Russian Federation and the Baltic Sea region.  The route connecting northern Europe to Iran (Islamic Republic of), from the Finnish-Russian border southward to the Caspian Sea and terminating at the port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf. The Gazvin-Rasht railway section with 164 km length was under construction with 93 per cent physical progress. The section was completed by the end of 2017.

In the framework of the EATL project, UNECE with funding support of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is developing a Geographical Information System (GIS) based International Transport Infrastructure Observatory featuring transport infrastructure data from across the Euro-Asian region. Recognising that one of the key challenges towards sustainable infrastructure development in the region remains the lack of funding, this web-based platform will enable Governments to retrieve the data to prepare, benchmark and present ‘bankable’ transport infrastructure projects to IFIs. The electronic platform that is being created will contain data about all transport networks and nodes in the Euro-Asian region (road, rail, inland waterways, ports, airports, intermodal terminals, logistics centres and border crossing points) as well as specific regional data on transport corridors (length, services, missing links, time schedules, tariffs).  A snapshot of what this GIS database will be able to provide is available here:

In parallel, UNECE is leading work on the establishment of a Unified Railway Law (URL).  The Group of Experts working under the auspices of UNECE Working Party on Rail Transport (SC.2) and comprised of legal experts from all interested Governments is currently discussing the scope of URL and its conversion into a legally-binding instrument. It has been testing the draft provisions of the URL contract of carriage in a pilot test carried out in April 2019 along the corridor Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey. The Group has been also discussing and agreeing on necessary documents to support contract of carriage as per their relevance to the URL provisions. Once in place, the URL will significantly facilitate railway cargo transportation between Asia and Europe.

All of this has helped to lay the foundation for the more efficient Euro-Asian inland transport network that today exists. Yet, to date, the maritime sector remains by far the dominant mode for cargo transportation between Asia and Europe, carrying 94 per cent by weight or volume and 64 per cent by value. Rail carried less than 1 per cent of trade between China and Europe by volume and just over 2 per cent by value.  Compared to rail, air transport carried twice as much cargo by weight and more than 13 times by value.  Nonetheless, the rail share of cargo on Euro-Asian transport corridors is growing, there has for instance been a 140 per cent increase during the first half of 2017 as compared to the same period in 2016 and according to some studies that China-Europe rail services could double their share of trade by volume over the next decade. 

Over the past decade, Governments and the private sector in the Euro-Asian region have consistently worked on addressing the remaining physical and non-physical inter-operability obstacles to international transport on EATL routes. In order to tackle those, the Phase III report emphasizes the necessity for collective, corridor-based action, including through the development of corridor specific work plans and operational targets, regionally agreed key performance indicators, pooling of rolling stock, railway wagons, containerised transport units etc. – because ultimately the performance of a transport corridor is only as strong as its weakest link. UNECE is committed to supporting the Euro-Asian region in becoming a land-linked rather than a landlocked region.

Read the report Euro-Asian Transport Linkages: Operationalisation of Inland Transport between Europe and Asia.

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