During several last decades freight traffic by rail between the countries of the European Union and their Eastern neighbors, Russia and China received an enormous potential, which still has to be realized. Until today East-West and West-East freight traffic must cross an invisible frontier because of the existence of two different legal regimes: Europe applies the CIM Uniform Rules, while Russia, China and other Asian countries apply the SMGS Convention. The existence of these legal hurdles leads to interruption of movement, entailing delays, additional costs and administrative burdens for development of New Silk Road.
The CIT as an international association mainly of railway undertakings was created in 1902 and for many years is active in the sphere of cross-border international rail transportation. Although the main area of CIT’s work is practical implementation of the COTIF – the Convention on International Rail Traffic, it has been also actively working towards the creation of the uniform international rail transport law. After more than 100 years a lot has been achieved and a lot more still can be done to ensure fast and reliable rail transportation of goods and passengers with clear-cut coherent rights and obligations for all participants of the transportation process.
The start of the project “Legal Interoperability CIM/SMGS” dates back to the Conference on International Rail Transport Law, which took place in Kyiv in October 2003, where the participants clearly expressed their aim to make available a common consignment note which can be used in through transport and which is sufficient for modern requirements. It was identified as a top priority and the CIT readily agreed to take over this task. In 2004 the CIT organized the mentioned project with the support of the OSJD.
At the first stage the CIT worked out the new Common consignment note as a sum of CIM and SMGS consignment notes based on practical experiences and needs of the CIM and SMGS railways and customs representatives. The common consignment note was made available as of September 1, 2006 and accompanied by the Manual on its application. The Manual was consequently annexed to the SMGS as Annex 22 resp. 6, so that SMGS railways were also able to apply it. Furthermore, in order to ensure that the consignment note CIM/SMGS can be also used in electronic form, GS CIT together with the experts prepared the respective legal, functional and technical specifications for the paperless consignment note. After the most recent adjustments and updates, the new version of the documents for the e-consignment note CIM/SMGS will be published in July 2019.
At the second stage of the project new common Formal Report CIM/SMGS was drafted and added to the Manual. It allows for a standardized procedure for claims handling. In parallel, the GS CIT initiated activities to draft the uniform liability conditions for CIM/SMGS traffic that could be applied on contractual basis. Transport Conditions for Sea-Rail Traffic to be applied on contractual basis. The common CIM/SMGS consignment note and the standardization of the handling of claims were only the first steps towards a much more ambitious project - the creation of a Uniform body of law for freight traffic by rail between Europe and Asia. This task is being actively pursued by the GS CIT in cooperation with the UNECE. As result this cooperation a Political Declaration on EuroAsian Rail Transport Law was signed in February 2013 by 37 representatives of the participating countries, which undertook a commitment to officially start activities on harmonization of rail transport law within the UN framework. In addition, it invites all interested railway freight companies, other stakeholders and international railway organization to develop interim standard rules for EuroAsian rail transport contracts.
The common CIM/SMGS consignment note is a remarkable success story. Applied on more than 50 axes in 4 TEN corridors it ensures much more reliable and expedient international rail freight traffic that can easily compete with maritime transport. In recent years it was applied on long-distance transcontinental routes from China to Western Europe. Moreover, CIT is exploring together with its members further opportunities of utilizing the CIM/SMGS consignment note for multimodal sea-rail transportation, mainly on the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.