The CIT: legal expertise for rail transport undertakings

Posted: 23 March 2016 | | No comments yet

International rail transport can be tricky – at borders, everything suddenly comes to a standstill; tickets or consignment notes cause problems, rules for carriers concerning liability and damages don’t tally, and the interface between rail and ship or road is unclear. Having international law that governs railways is just not enough; it needs to be implemented on an operational level by the railways. And this is exactly where the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT) comes into play, explains Cesare Brand, Secretary General…

The CIT: legal expertise for rail transport undertakings

The CIT’s mission is to implement international rail transport law at a railway level. Its aim is to ensure and extend legal interoperability. Its strength is in exploiting its high level of legal competence within its excellent networks in Europe, Asia and North Africa. CIT’s current members include 128 railway and maritime undertakings (full members) and six associations of railway undertakings (associate members) – more than ever before. The CIT’s activities help them to lower costs and improve their competitiveness.

Products for the real world

The CIT is a centre of competence for international transport law based in Bern, Switzerland. It is always available with advice and other services for its members, constantly keeping them up-to-date on the latest global information on international passenger and goods transport. Activities are focussed on developing products: manuals, terms and conditions, guidelines, boilerplate contracts and CIT forms for different sectors, all of which simplify operations and improve efficiency. The best-known products, which are used thousands of times daily, are consignment notes for rail freight and international rail tickets for passengers.

When the law is not necessarily right

The world of railways is complicated, not just in a technical sense but also legally. The ‘Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail’ (COTIF) applies in 50 countries; 27 countries in Eastern Europe and Asia use the SMPS and SMGS agreements on international passenger and goods transport; and EU rules are in force in 26 countries with their own rail infrastructure. The CIT ensures the legal interoperability of these different systems so that traffic can flow as quickly and costeffectively as possible. It makes certain that rail transport law is applied consistently and developed further by mutual agreement.

Stronger together

The CIT follows the principle ‘together we are strong’. The CIT combines the resources of its members and uses their standing in expert and decision-making bodies, such as OTIF (the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail) and EU organisations. To increase its impact it seeks to work collaboratively with other rail sectors such as the CER (the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies) and the UIC (the International Union of Railways). Interests are thus represented effectively and fairly, provided they are non-discriminatory, transparent and credible – these are the guidelines by which the CIT pursues its activities. 

Passenger rights and ticketing

The CIT is actively involved in many issues regarding passenger rights. For example, it is particularly active in the development and uniform implementation of EU passenger rights (PRR). International tickets are particularly important. The security background for international tickets defined by the CIT protects against forgery and avoids loss and complications for the railways. The new CIT Manual for International Rail Tickets (MIRT) came into force in December 2015. It outlines international carriage legalities and contains all essential information and standards for the issue, use and checking of international tickets. Thanks to these CIT standards, international tickets can be mutually recognised by railways and easily used by their customers.

Legal advice and expertise

The CIT supports its members with free legal expertise and advice. For example, the CIT General Secretariat supported ÖBB (the Austrian Federal Railways) in this way during their year-long legal battle in the USA. On 1 December 2015, the US Supreme Court unanimously endorsed the position of ÖBB and the CIT, that an American customer, following an accident whilst boarding a train, did not have the right to seek damages in the USA, particularly as the rights of passengers are optimally protected under COTIF. A contrary decision by the highest court in the USA could have resulted in unpleasant consequences for all European railways.

Efficiency in international goods transport

The more efficient and cost-effective goods transport by rail becomes – in particular when crossing borders – the better market opportunities it has. The CIT is currently contributing to this by promoting the practical implementation of the CIM Uniform Rules, amongst other things. Various manuals, specifications and specimen documents are available to CIT members for the organisation of international goods transport. The CIT is currently carrying out important preliminary work towards the realisation of the CIM electronic consignment note and the CUV electronic wagon note. The revised legal and functional specifications for the electronic consignment note will come into force on 1 January 2017.

Multimodal transport is growing

Multimodal transport is occurring more and more frequently in international traffic, and the CIT is factoring in this trend. Since 2014/2015, the new Multimodality Committee and Working Group, comprising experts from CIT members, are contributing to improved interaction between rail, maritime and road law. On 1 January 2015, the GTC Rail-Sea Traffic (General Terms and Conditions Applying to Joint-contracting for Rail-Sea Freight Traffic), as developed by the CIT, came into force. A boilerplate contract for rail and maritime carriers is at a preparatory stage. Meanwhile, there is close cooperation between the CIT and the IRU (the International Road Transport Union). The associations want better links between their different legal systems. As a first step towards this they have jointly issued a map of the geographical scope of their legal systems and a table of the most important practical issues (liability, obligations of the parties, important documents such as consignment note etc.).

No traffic without infrastructure

Without a rail infrastructure there would be no passenger or goods transport by rail – it is for this reason that the CIT aspires to uniform rules for the use of infrastructure. Almost all EU member states have now recognised the CUI Uniform Rules (Uniform Rules concerning the Contract of Use of Infrastructure in International Rail Traffic).

However, in practice these rules are often not used, which may be due to lack of clarity in the wording of the scope in Article 1 of the CUI Uniform Rules. The CIT is therefore taking part in an OTIF working group to develop more precise wording. Together with the UIC, RNE and the CER, the CIT is helping the EGTC (European General Terms and Conditions of Use of Railway Infrastructure) to achieve a breakthrough.



Members join in

The senior bodies of the CIT are the General Assembly of members and the Executive Committee, led by Chairman Jean-Luc Dufournaud (SNCF). Experts taken from the circle of members advise the decision-making bodies. As a result there are committees for passenger traffic (CIV), freight traffic (CIM), use of infrastructure (CUI) and multimodality – all of which are supported by permanent working groups and occasionally by ad-hoc working groups. Therefore, the CIT members have the opportunity to bring their position and expert knowledge to the table in the various committees. The General Secretariat, which is based in Bern, Switzerland, supports the CIT bodies, experts and members both professionally and administratively and conducts operational business.

Focus on East-West traffic

The CIT is taking a leading role in strengthening East-West traffic between Asia and Europe. Many obstacles to East-West traffic have been removed, thanks to the CIM/SMGS uniform consignment note. According to RZD data, in 2014 more than 9,000 import and almost 12,000 export consignments were sent using the CIM/SMGS uniform consignment note. Around 3,500 consignment notes were used for transit transport from China or Kazakhstan to Europe. The importance of a CIM/SMGS electronic consignment note, which the CIT is pressing for, is also continuously growing. Practical documents relating to East-West traffic are also available to CIT members in several languages, some even in Russian and Chinese. Together with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and other organisations and undertakings, the CIT is currently setting up legal rules for postal transport by rail between China and Europe. CIT products could have a vital role to play.

Becoming a member of the CIT

It is very easy to apply for membership of the CIT via the organisation’s website1. A range of benefits are available to CIT members, including: practical resources and tools for international passenger and goods transport; competent representation of interests at an international level; assistance from in-house experts in the development of international transport law; opportunities for further professional development and exchange of ideas; legal advice and services; plus continually updated information from the CIT General Secretariat. The membership subscription is calculated on the basis of transport services provided by the undertaking in international passenger and goods transport.


Cesare Brand has been the Secretary General of the CIT since 2012. Trained as a lawyer, Cesare has held several senior positions within the railway industry over the past 20 years. After starting as Head of the Legal Section in the Swiss Confederation’s Federal Office of Transport, he moved to SBB (the Swiss Federal Railways) in 2002 where he took on management of the central legal service. Between 2009 and 2012, Cesare managed the Regulation and International Affairs Unit of SBB.