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New UN Convention will significantly speed up international rail travel for passengers, especially in Europe and Asia

Published: 22 February 2019

Rail travel offers an efficient, safe and environmentally friendly means of transport, with significant untapped potential to support progress on a range of Sustainable Development Goals spanning from economic growth to climate action.

Global passenger rail travel is growing, with over 3,731 billion passenger km covered in 2016. As the development of the world’s existing expansive railway networks continues, rail could have an increasingly important role to play in international transport. This is especially true in Europe and Asia, which accounts for 97% of all passenger rail traffic. The UNECE Euro-Asian region has seen a 3.3% increase from 2010 to 2017 in total passenger km.

However, technical and administrative limitations, slow customs procedures and border controls – together with other challenges – mean that international passengers often have to spend hours waiting at borders, sometimes in precarious conditions.

This is set to change thanks to a new international agreement developed at UNECE, which was adopted today in Geneva.

The Convention on the Facilitation of Border Crossing Procedures for Passengers, Luggage and Load-Luggage carried in international Traffic by Rail – to give its full name – has in particular been developed in view of the current realities of East-West passenger traffic. The Convention aims to engage countries in Asia and Europe in the implementation of new railway projects along the regions’ main transport corridors.

Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkey have already expressed their intention to start internal procedures to formally accede to the Convention in the near future. The Convention requires 5 signatories to enter into force.

In particular, the Convention will help to:

  • Facilitate and expedite border-crossings by means of efficient state control systems and the application of international standards;
  • Extend the use of modern technologies, in particular automatic gauge changeover technologies and high-speed rolling stock technologies;
  • Reduce timeframes for the completion of technological operations and state controls;
  • Provide comfort and quality of service for passengers, while reducing the running times of trains;
  • Facilitate visa issuance procedures.

The Convention is the result of many years of negotiations and will serve as successor to the largely outdated 1952 Rail Convention, which no longer fulfills current railway requirements.

Welcoming the Convention’s adoption, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stated: “To address transport holistically as required by the 2030 Agenda, we need to harness the potential of all forms of mobility, including rail. As the home of the United Nations inland transport legal instruments, UNECE is proud to host this new Convention, which will make the life of millions of passengers easier. This in turn will further support efforts for improved regional connectivity and efficient, green and sustainable transport”. 

The Convention text was adopted by UNECE’s Inland Transport Committee, becoming the 59th legal instrument in the field of inland transport developed under UNECE auspices. The Convention will now be open for signature for all United Nations Member States.

Regional Economic Integration Organizations may also become parties to the Convention.

The Convention text is available in English, French and Russian.

Note to editors

At its 81st session, the Inland Transport Committee adopted the document that contains the text of the new Convention and requested the secretariat to send it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, designated as the Depositary of the Convention.


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