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Making Euro-Asian transport corridors operational is helping to unlock rail cargo logistics potential along inland routes

Economic growth and effective transport connectivity are closely interrelated in the vast Euro-Asian landmass.

Taking advantage of the significant and greatly under-utilized transit capacity of land routes through Eurasia can not only provide more transport options for trade, but also boost socioeconomic development of countries in the region.

This is the objective of the ongoing Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) project, supported by UNECE, which brings together around 40 countries, many of which are Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), along the Euro-Asian land-bridge to realize this untapped potential.

The project focuses on the operationalization of nine inland routes (road and rail) connecting key economic centres in Europe and Asia, which could save both time and costs of delivery of freight and trade between the two continents. 

Gathering at this week’s Making Euro-Asian Transport Corridors Operational conference in Geneva,  over 80 senior-level government representatives of EATL countries, together with private sector stakeholders, shippers, rail operators, road transport associations, investment banks as well as representatives of international organisations, shared experience and exchanged views on how to further facilitate the operationalization of Euro-Asian corridors and make inland transport a major contributor to the economic development and trade facilitation of the region.

With a focus on strengthening cooperation and coordination, stakeholders agreed to continue prioritizing:

  • The elimination of bottlenecks, inefficiencies and missing links along EATL routes;
  • The development of logistics centres and hubs as well as dry ports and the modernization of border crossing points;
  • The introduction of public-private partnerships and other market-oriented and innovative ways of financing transport infrastructure;
  • The reform of the railway sector, both in terms of streamlining administrative requirements and encouraging harmonization of infrastructure, equipment and facilities along the routes in order to enhance technical and operational interoperability;
  • The enhancement of efforts in digitalization, standardization and harmonization of trade and transport documents, including through a shift to electronic documentation and the introduction of one-stop-shops, single windows and electronic payment systems.

The comparison study undertaken during EATL Phase II on door to door delivery between rail and maritime transport, with road transport as the first-last mile delivery in both cases, showed that rail can be quicker and cheaper for the five out of the nine scenarios analysed. On average a 50% cut of door to door travel time could be achieved using rail transportation.

The project has shown that road and rail transportation along Euro-Asian corridors is supplementing rather than competing with maritime transport, providing alternative delivery options, especially for high value and time-sensitive cargo, including in the context of growing e-commerce.

The EATL project’s principal value to the market is that it paved the way for the operation of container “block trains”. The development of the block trains, the so called “highways of railways” made the Euro-Asian corridors operational, serving as a regular mechanism controlled by the market that evaluates the service levels and requests for greater facilitation, cooperation and investment.

Since the identification of the main EATL routes and elaboration of a multi-country EATL Investment Plan in 2012, significant progress has been made, bringing an increase in the number of block train services and freight volume along EATL routes, in particular for the IT and motor industries. Companies including Audi, BMW, General Motors, Volkswagen and Samsung have begun operating regular block trains on different EATL routes.  

Progress is also being made when it comes to administrative railway interoperability, particularly through the use of the common CIM/SMGS Consignment Note prepared by CIT and OSJD. Building on this achievement, UNECE member States are currently trying to solve remaining administrative issues through the creation of a full-fledged Unified Railway Law, which would establish a single legal rail regime (one contract of carriage, one liability and one consignment note) along the entire West-East axis connecting Europe to Asia. 

Further capitalizing on the potential of the EATL routes, however, will require significant investment in transport infrastructure, in parallel with strengthened cooperation between a range of stakeholders including governments of participating countries, railway undertakings, and international organizations as well as with the implementation of a number of UN Transport Conventions.

The Report on Phase III of the Euro-Asian Transport Links Project is available at: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/doc/2018/itc/Informal_document_No_8_EATL_3rd-phase_report.pdf

Note to editors

About the EATL project

The Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) project aims to operationalize inland transport corridors between Europe and Asia, capitalizing on their significant untapped transit potential.

The identification of nine road and rail routes in Phase II of the EATL project was followed by the organization of numerous capacity building workshops in order to facilitate border crossings through the implementation of UN transport conventions; to identify missing links and bottlenecks and accelerate in cooperation with governments and International Financial Institutions for their prioritization and construction; and to strengthen cooperation among Railway Undertakings in order to develop common and integrated rail services along those corridors.