Evolution of the market and impact on international transport law

Liberalisation, digitalisation, multimodality, new business models – the railway landscape is changing; but international rail transport law currently lags behind these developments and the ever-greater gap between law and business reality is creating disruptive legal uncertainty. Cesare Brand, Secretary General of the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT), explains more.


In Europe, freight market liberalisation began in 1991 with Directive 91/440, but railways mostly continued to use their ‘tried-and-tested’ cooperative model until the turn of the millennium. Competition has come to dominate the freight sector in the last 15 years (apart from in wagonload, where cooperation remains standard because the system will not work otherwise). Likewise, over 90 per cent of international passenger journeys take place under cooperation agreements, and liberalisation began in 2010.

The impact of liberalisation and digitalisation

The law governing the international carriage of passengers and freight by rail dates from the 1990s (COTIF 99). As the law of private contract, it governs the relationship between customers and railway undertakings. Though COTIF 99 was intended to enable implementation of liberalisation via the legal system, its solutions were heavily influenced by the market context at the time, in which railways cooperated. Meanwhile, market liberalisation with open access and the separation of infrastructure and operations has increased the number of actors and business models, with many railway undertakings, infrastructure managers, service providers, wagon keepers, and sales and logistics firms present on the market, often with diverging interests. What railways previously offered from a one-stop-shop, i.e., the ‘rail system’, no longer exists as such.

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