Transport is vital to the well-functioning of economic activities and a key to ensuring social well-being and cohesion of populations. Transport ensures everyday mobility of people and is crucial to the production and distribution of goods. Adequate infrastructure is a fundamental precondition for transport systems. In their endeavour to facilitate transport, however, decision-makers in governments and international organizations face difficult challenges. These include the existence of physical barriers or hindrances, such as insufficient or inadequate transport infrastructures, bottlenecks and missing links, as well as lack of funds to remove them. Solving these problems is not an easy task. It requires action on the part of the governments concerned, actions that are coordinated with other governments at international level.
The UNECE Governments have long-standing experience and expertise in the development of coherent international transport networks in Europe. They have created four main transport network agreements aimed at the development of coherent networks for road, rail, inland water and combined transport respectively. The UNECE transport network agreements include:
- The European Agreement on Main International Traffic Arteries (AGR), done in 1975;
- The European Agreement on Main International Railway Lines (AGC), done in 1985;
- The European Agreement on Important International Combined Transport Lines and Related Installations (AGTC), done in 1991; and
- The European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN), done in 1996.
These four international Agreements define respectively the E road, rail, combined and inland water transport networks. They also determine the minimum technical norms and requirements according to which the relevant infrastructures should be built. The AGTC also includes operational parameters for combined transport services. Finally, they establish a well-known numbering system, in general following a north-south and east-west grid system.
Although legally binding for countries that become parties to them, the UNECE infrastructure agreements give governments ample latitude for implementation. In particular, they establish neither deadlines nor priorities. Nevertheless, constantly kept up to date, these UNECE infrastructure agreements are the only Pan-European governmental basis for the long-term development of coherent international networks for the various modes of inland transport. As such, they were taken as a basis for the determination of the Pan-European transport corridors at the Pan-European Transport Conferences in Crete and Helsinki.
The E road and E rail networks represent the most useful basis for the identification of priority Euro-Asian transport corridors as they already incorporate the main roads and rail lines planned for the eastern parts of the Russian Federation and for the Caucasus and Central Asian countries. The E road network is a particularly good example.
Moreover, a number of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European Governments cooperate in the framework of the UNECE Trans-European North-South Motorway (TEM) and the Trans-European Railway (TER) Projects with a view to the coordinated development of their international road, rail and combined transport networks. Both projects have recently been increasingly focusing on corridor related activities, including providing secretariat functions to Pan- European Corridor VI.
They are also cooperating with each other to explore further possibilities for developing combined transport in the region. As many as 21 Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries have elaborated the TEM and TER Master Plan, including the identification of the backbone networks for road and rail transport in those countries and a realistic investment strategy to gradually develop these networks. This has also included the evaluation and prioritization of infrastructure projects. The TEM and TER Master Plan is currently being revised with the involvement of 25 Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries and the work will be competed by 2011.
In 1995, soon after countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus became UNECE Member States, the UNECE Inland Transport Committee decided to include their international transport networks in the E transport networks. The extension of the E road and of the E rail networks was completed in 2000 and 2001 respectively. The extension of the E combined transport network is under way.
The development of Euro-Asian land Transport Links (EATL) is largely viewed as an extension of the Pan-European Transport Corridors further to the East. With this perspective in mind, Governments of 18 countries in the Euro-Asian region have been invited to participate in a UN Development Account Project aimed at the development of Euro-Asian transport links. These countries are: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The first phase of the EATL project ended in 2008 with the Ministerial Meeting in Geneva. Under this project government representatives from those countries agreed on the main road and rail transport routes connecting Europe and Asia and evaluated and prioritized infrastructure projects along theses routes. They also identified main transshipment points and analyzed border crossing obstacles. In addition, they developed a Geographic Information System (GIS) database concerning routes and projects. The project reached a milestone at the ministerial meeting held in Geneva, on February 2008, during which high-level representatives of 19 countries signed a Joint Statement on the development of Euro-Asian transport links.
Following the Joint Statement of theMinisters of Ttransport of Euro-Asian countries, the work is continued through the activities of WP.5 and its subsidiary ad hoc Group of Experts on EATL. Subsequently, the government of Russia provided a multi-year funding to support EATL activities until 2011. The EATL Expert Group consisting of designated National Focal Points from 26 countries and experts from international organizations and bodies concerned is implementing a well elaborated and focused programme under EATL Phase II, aimed at the coordination and monitoring of the Euro-Asian Transport Links. The work includes elaborating studies, analysis, collecting data on transport infrastructure and operations along Euro-Asian transport routes and eliminating non-physical obstacles to international transport as well as organizing workshops and meetings.
The UNECE published in 2009 a Report on the identification of bottlenecks, missing links and quality of service in infrastructure networks in English and Russian (the French version is forthcoming). It aims to provide an approach that will permit an unbiased overview of existing infrastructure bottlenecks and missing links in the pan-European region. This methodology for the identification of bottlenecks, missing links and quality of service in infrastructure networks will facilitate a coherent appraisal and selection of transport infrastructure projects of international importance across the UNECE region.
The UNECE Expert Group on Hinterland Connections of Seaports was able to complete its final Report, including the evaluation of an original questionnaire survey and evidence-based policy recommendations to member States. These recommendations aim inter alia to ensure that hinterland connections of seaports are well integrated into transport development strategic plans at national and international levels. They, encourage UNECE to launch the development of a new evaluation tool for identifying key pinch points and points of weakness/failure in transport systems, and benchmarking performance of transport and logistics systems against peer economies. Furthermore, they, encourage good practice adoption for border crossings with a view to improving hinterland efficiency in general terms, but most particularly for landlocked non-EU countries, and encourage the European Union to maintain a clear focus on improving transport infrastructure and operations with neighbouring UNECE countries, particularly EU candidate countries.