In early 50s of the 20th century a reasonable need for unified legal and economic principles emerged so as to ensure international carriage of both passengers and cargos.
A number of meetings were held, in particular, on December 22, 1950 in Warsaw, April 23, 1951 in Prague and July 10, 1951 in Budapest. The participants thereof developed and approved initial primary documents aimed at facilitating international carriage of passengers and freight traffic as follows:
- Agreement on Direct International Carriage of Passengers and Luggage by Rail and Procedure Instruction attached thereto
- Agreement on Direct International Goods Transport by Rail and Procedure Instruction attached thereto
- Direct international tariff for passenger, luggage and cargo transportation by rail
- Unified Transit Tariff (UTT) for freight traffic by railways of states being parties to the Agreement on Direct International Goods Transport by Rail
- Rules of Reciprocal Use of Wagons in International Traffic
- Settlement procedures applied to the Agreement on Direct International Carriage of Passengers and Luggage by Rail (MPS) and Agreement on Direct International Goods Transport by Rail (MGS)
The foregoing agreements, rules and tariffs approved by the railways of the People’s Republic of Albania, People’s Republic of Bulgaria, People’s Republic of Hungary, German Democratic Republic, People’s Republic of Poland, Socialist Republic of Rumania, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Czechoslovak Socialist Republic became effective on November 1, 1951.
Regular meetings involving representatives of railways of the parties to the agreements specified hereinabove were held in 1953 in Moscow and 1955 in Berlin. As a result, the foregoing agreements, tariffs and rules were materially amended and renamed (Agreement on International Goods Transport by Rail (SMGS) and Agreement on International Passenger Transport by Rail (SMPS), respectively). As well, the number of the parties thereto considerably increased.
In 1953 the railways of the People’s Republic of China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Mongolian People’s Republic as well as in 1955 the railways of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam acceded to the agreements as aforesaid. Thus, the overall number of railways being parties to the agreements totaled twelve.
The parties primarily cooperated in the field of railway transport law and tariffs as well as operating and maintenance issues directly related to the course of carriage. Every two years they participated in conferences held in any capital thereof in order to revise the agreements and regulations attached thereto.
The national railways of Poland were vested with the power to regulate any issue related to either MPS or MGS (SMPS and SMGS, accordingly). The foregoing authority established MPS-MGS Administration Bureau (AB) in order to exercise this particular function. Any expense incurred by AB were reimbursed by all the railways being parties to the agreements as aforesaid and paid as subscription fees.
Eventually, cooperation of the railways expanded. Passenger and freight traffic considerably advanced and a need for closer interrelationship in the other fields of railway business intensified, in particular, with respect to engineering, research and development, design and economic activities.
In H1 1956 in order to facilitate these activities within the framework of the former organization (AB) the following Technical Committees were established:
- Technical Committee I for wagon and clearance to obstructions dimensions as well as standardization of wagons and components thereof
- Technical Committee II for signals and interlocking
- Technical Committee III for electrification
- Technical Committee IV for superstructures and constructional works
However, a need for developing railway scientific and technological cooperation as well as international railway traffic triggered establishment of new organizations designed to ensure continuous growth thereof.
As a result, the circumstances required establishment of another organization for cooperation of railways. It should have higher level as compared with the then-current AB system and cover any and all issues related to the railway system in an integrated manner. The most important thing was that cooperation should be provided under direct supervision of the ministers of the respective states. Thus, a number of regular meetings should be held annually as sessions of the Board of Ministers, a superior management body of the Organization.
To begin with, this was due to the fact that SMPS and SMGS agreements were of interagency rather than intergovernmental nature, while legal regulations governing relationship between railways and customers thereof were subject to approval by the railways themselves. As a result, the level of SMPS and SMGS agreements decreased as compared with MPS and MGS conventions, thus causing various negative occurrences in both SMPS and SMGS practices.
In the second place, experience of the first years UTT and PPW rules were applied in showed rapidly mounting differences. Different interests of states had a direct impact on and promoted variety of opinions and views of a number of railways both with respect to UTT rates and those related to reciprocal use of wagons. It affected economic relationships of the states with the railways being parties to SMPS and SMGS agreements. Such a situation considerably prejudiced both economic relationships thereof and reliability of political cooperation.
Therefore, a meeting of ministers of transport was held in June 1956 in Sophia; the ministers resolved to establish the Organization for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) by unanimous vote. It is called the fist session of the OSJD Board of Ministers.
This particular meeting approved the Regulation for Cooperation of Railways and vested AB with the authority to develop draft regulations specifying the way the meetings of the OSJD Board of Ministers should be convened and held as well as draft Rules of the OSJD Committee, an executive body of the Organization.
Participants of the 2nd session of the Board of Ministers held in Beijing (People’s Republic of China) in 1957 resolved to elect Henrik Dronzhkevich, a representative of the National Railways of Poland, to the office of the Chairman of the OSJD Committee, while a representative of railways of the Soviet Union to the office of the Vice Chairman and that of the Czechoslovak railways to the office of the Secretary thereof.
In the meantime upon request of B.P. Beschev, Minister of Railway Transport of the Soviet Union, a resolution on publishing OSJD Bulletin magazine in Chinese, German and Russian was passed for the purpose of promoting resolutions and recommendations of the OSJD Board of Ministers or Committee as well as sharing experience and information on developments by the railways of OSJD member states. Accordingly, magazine staff was hired for that purpose.
Having been established over 50 years ago OSJD carried out both active and fruitful activities as well as faced certain difficulties primarily caused by a failure to hold sessions of the OSJD Board of Ministers, a superior management body of the Organization, from 1966 to 1984 due to the complicated international situation. However, notwithstanding the then-current problems the OSJD Committee worked on a continuous basis outside the scope of its dedicated activities and took certain measures to expand OSJD.
A specific nature of business of the Organization for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) providing for collegial railway problem handling allowed it to retain its status of a recognized international institution notwithstanding significant political changes both in Europe and Asia within the term as aforesaid.
New geopolitical environment formed in the 90s of the 20th century specified certain issues requiring coordinated activities by all participants of the international railway traffic in order to ensure regular transcontinental rail communication between Europe and Asia. Certain problems affecting the reduction of term required to carry cargos by rail arose due to emergence of new interstate boarders and introduction of supplementary boarder procedures.
Legal regulations applied to traffic between Europe and Asia differ from those in full force and effect in the Western Europe providing for improvement and adjustment of traffic terms and conditions, tariff policies, customs procedures, reciprocal wagon use rules, payments by the railways etc.
Besides, unlike terms and conditions of traffic by rail in Europe rail communication in OSJD member states is characterized by a considerable range of transport routes (8-10K km) going through various climate zones including those with severe climate as well as double track gauge changeover en route in a single direction (1,435 mm/1,520 mm/1,435 mm). The total working mileage of railways of OSJD member states as of the date of establishment thereof was equal to 227,000 km. Nowadays, it is 280,000 km providing for carriage of 5.4 bln tons of cargos and 4.6 bln passengers annually.
OSJD analyzes traffic peculiarities and coordinates agreed solutions of the railways, thus facilitating improvement of rail communication within the territory of OSJD member states subject to technical, process, legal and tariff compatibility thereof with the traffic system involving European countries.
Upon emergence of independent states within the territory of the Soviet Union in early 90s of the 20th century OSJD structure changed as well involving almost all former Soviet Republics (but for Armenia), while upon disintegration of Czechoslovakia the Slovak and Czech Republics joined OSJD, too.
Reunification of Germany had impact on the form of further involvement of JSC German Railways in OSJD as it earned the status of an observer. Upon entry of the Islamic Republic of Iran to OSJD the number of members thereof de jure totaled 27 while being 25 de facto (Albania and Cuba continue to be OSJD members; however, they do not participate in the Organization activities, while Albania still remains a party to SMPS and SMGS).
A number of discussions held by authorized representatives of members of the OSJD Board of Ministers with respect to the results of certain developments by the OSJD Committee allowed it to specify the targets approved by the 19th session of the OSJD Board of Ministers held in Budapest in 1991 and aimed at improving OSJD business.
The following were specified as the most important and essential targets thereof:
- Extending international rail communication of the Western Europe to the east coast of Asia and introducing advanced technologies and equipment
- Ensuring cooperation of railways with the Central and Eastern Europe as well as Asia for the purpose of sharing experiences
- Developing unified international transport law on a continuous basis
- Cooperating in the field of transport policies and environment
The participants of the 20th session of the OSJD Board of ministers held in 1992 in Ulan Bator (Mongolia) resolved to establish another management body of the Organization, namely, Conference of Managing Directors (Authorized Representatives) of OSJD Railways (KGD). This management body was designed to involve railways in the activities carried out by the Organization. It focused on managing the following:
- Cooperating in the field of international railway traffic between Europe and Asia, including combined services
- Sharing information on anticipated foreign trade shipments and thus developing joint competitive bids
- Approving rules for the use of wagons, containers, pallets and other transportation tools as well as maintenance thereof
- Settlements by railways
- Developing cooperation with other international institutions
- Economy and finance of railways
- Addressing technical and research issues
The foregoing Conference allowed it to expand the scope of OSJD functions and improve performance thereof. A new strategic line of OSJD business was determined based on analysis of transformations occurring in Europe and Asia and subject to a need for higher competitive capacity of railway transport. Now the Organization focused as well on improving rail communication between Europe and Asia. It became the primary task thereof being specified in the basic documents of OSJD.
Another phase of activity of the Organization has commenced in 1993 and continues up to date. It began upon introduction of revised basic documents of OSJD, adaptation of new organizational structure of the OSJD Committee to transformations related to a number of OSJD bodies or permanent OSJD Committees being reduced and reorganization thereof as well as approval of rules and procedures by the same.
As well, approval of the Program for Improving Rail Communication between Europe and Asia in 1994 being the basis for annual programs to be executed by OSJD could be deemed another positive point in the business of the OSJD Committee within the term as aforesaid.
Amendments made to the Regulation for Cooperation of Railways at the 21st session of the Board of OSJD Ministers held in Warsaw in 1993 allowed it to extend the scope of opportunities for any member of the Organization and enabled any company or association directly related to railway services to participate in OSJD business in the capacity of an observer or affiliate. Precisely this form of cooperation is of great interest for companies and enterprises of the railway sector. The status of an affiliate formerly had or currently have companies from Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Rumania, Slovakia, Ukraine, France, Czech Republic and Switzerland carrying out any business related to railway services.
The Program for Improving Rail Communication between Europe and Asia approved at the 22nd session of the OSJD Board of Ministers in 1994 (Moscow) forms the basis for the range of works to be carried out within OSJD continuously. The Program implementation is supervised by management bodies of the Organization. It was presented at international conferences and its fundamental provisions were published in a number of periodicals.
Within the Program implementation the following issues have been identified:
- Primary railway routes going from Europe to Asia with due regard to the activities carried out in Europe by ITC UNECE, Trans-European Railway (TER), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and International Union of Railways (UIC)
- Future freight and passenger traffic between Europe and Asia
In 1994 the Regional Program for Development and Employment of International Trunks through Dostyk (Kazakhstan) – Alashankou (China) railway boarder terminal was approved within the integrated program by ministers of railways and transport of seven states (Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) using fundamental provisions of the latter.
Commencement of service through Dostyk (Kazakhstan) – Alashankou (China) railway boarder terminal was the first step towards restoration of the Silk Road late in the 20th century.
Early in 1995 the ministers of railways of Belarus, Germany, Poland and Russia executed the Agreement for Cooperation providing for upgrade, retrofitting and development of Berlin-Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow railway corridor and phased implementation of the respective action plan up to 2010.
On May 13, 1996 the railways of Turkmenistan and Iran were conjoined within Meshkhed-Serahs-Tedzhen section. From now on the south corridor of the Trans-Asian Railway was put into operation most closely repeating the initial Silk Road.
Thus, a new inland bridge between Europe and Asia provided for another direction: Lianyungang, a seaport on the east coast of China, was connected by the railway to Bandar Abbas, a seaport in the Persian Gulf, and in parallel with European ports in the Black and Mediterranean Sea through Urumchi, Almaty, Tashkent and Teheran. Therefore, these two events provided hinterland states in the Central Asia with the shortest way to the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Finally, Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor (TRACECA) has been developing in the recent decade being deemed a modern modification of the Silk Road.
On November 18, 2005 Eurotransit-2005, the first container train, departed from Berlin en second common European transport corridor Berlin-Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow.
Departure of the first experimental freight train from Ukraine to Germany on July 21, 2006 became an outstanding event both for OSJD and all the railways in Europe and Asia. It was the first time a unified CIM/SMGS waybill was used, thus opening a new chapter in transport law applicable to freight traffic between COTIF and SMGS member states. As from September 2006 procedures to be complied with when crossing the boarders of the two legal systems have been considerably facilitated, thus reducing the delay time of trains at the boarder check points.