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2022 Berner Tage: Freight traffic workshop

The Berner Tage on 9-10 June 2022 discussed three major developments which in the freight context are currently affecting rail at various levels: international, intermodal and digital. The surging digitalisation that rail is presently experiencing should not cause us to overlook other major concerns: possible revision of the CIM Uniform Rules, issues relating to customs procedures, and possible new functions to be supplied by transport documents.

Customs regulations and rail freight

CIT Deputy Secretary-General Erik Evtimov kick-started the discussion with a presentation of the European Union’s various policy initiatives on digital information via Regulation EU 2020/1056  (eFTI Regulation) and the related DTLF (Digital Transport and Logistics Forum) project, the TAF (Telematics Applications for Freight) Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) drawn up and optimised by ERA (European Railway Agency), and the digitalisation of CIT transport documents including, inter alia, the electronic CIM consignment note. The simplified transit procedure for rail will no longer be permitted in EU Member States from the end of 2023. The timeline for the phase-out varies from one country to another, depending on when each has upgraded its national customs software for phase 5 of NCTS. With the end of the simplified transit procedure for rail, the paper-based CIM consignment note will no longer be valid as a transit declaration.

On this same topic, Wessel Sijl of DB Cargo Nederland clarified the current status of the customs legislation and procedures in force after many years of applying the EU Customs Code, and the practical impacts of these regulations on rail freight flows within the EU or in transit to/from third countries. In the near future, the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS version 5) is set to facilitate these customs formalities by enabling greater flexibility and comprehensiveness and by digitally processing all documents connected with customs declarations.

Revision of the CIM Uniform Rules: risk or genuine opportunity?

CIM Working Group Chairman Cristian Cuenca of DB Cargo highlighted the challenges and prospects for revision of the CIM UR, which had been on the table since 11 May 2022, when OTIF began a consultation in the shape of two questionnaires, one on electronic rail transport documents, the other on negotiable transport documents. Having first stated that the CIM UR had proven their worth in terms of legal certainty by supplying practical solutions, the CIM Working Group Chairman then asked whether the possible revision represented a risk or a genuine opportunity to remodel an ageing body of regulation and make it fit for purpose in the light of present concerns and recent challenges. The question remained open, and would need to be discussed within the CIM Working Group and at OTIF level. The aspects highlighted by Mr Cuenca here and which railway undertakings would need to think about were: the extension of Article 3 CIM UR, an adapted wording to cater for electronic uses, an adjustment of the liability clauses, and a review of the functions of the consignment note. This was followed by a discussion with the floor, with Professor R. Freise (consultant) remarking in particular that railways should use the possible revision to look at practice in other modes of transport and benefit from the opportunity to simplify the CIM UR.

Panel discussion on freight transport in the 21st century: megatrends

Proceedings continued in the shape of a panel discussion. First, Tibo Noël from UIC spoke about the DP-RAIL project and the creation of a digital platform linking rail transport players via the transmission, use, integration and exploitation of digital data via a common interface. Professor Isabelle Bon-Garcin of the University of Lyon 2 gave a well-received presentation on the law governing multimodal transport, which is struggling to gain momentum despite the European Commission’s draft revision of the Combined Transport Directive and the CIT products available to carriers: the rail-road check-list, rail-sea boilerplate contracts, GTC Rail-Sea Traffic, and indeed the comparative benchmark of the law governing transport by inland waterway, to wit the COTIF/CIM and CMNI-CNLI/Athens Convention regimes. Lastly, Professor R. Freise spoke about the functions of the CIM consignment note. Since under article 6 §5 of the CIM UR the latter does not have the value of a bill of lading, it cannot be declared as a transferable and negotiable transport document, though Eurasian trade is increasingly challenging this and prompting adaptations, with the CIM Plus consignment note and extended functionalities intended to facilitate documentary credit.

We saw that these megatrends, whether viewed through a digital or intermodal prism or from a functional point of view as concerns transport documents, raise plenty of questions as well as demonstrating that the sector is particularly dynamic, multi-dimensional, and more than ever a core legal, political, economic and environmental concern. Participants were briefed in depth on the prospects for rail freight; these will be discussed shortly within the CIM Working Group and CIM Committee at CIT, and within the OTIF ad hoc Committee on Legal Affairs and International Cooperation.