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The study gives an overview of existing railway passenger services along the Trans-Asian Railway Network (TARN) and an analysis of the legal and institutional framework with a view to provide recommendations for further strengthening operations of passenger trains along the Trans-Asian Railway network.

The intercountry railway passenger transport in ESCAP region is extensively developed, however, the density of services (except for 1520 mm area) is low. There are no direct journeys from non-capital cities and the existing routes are not linked to one another.  Moreover, the border crossing formalities for international passenger transport by rail are not harmonized, however, in this regard the TARN member countries could accede to recently adopted UN ECE Convention on the Facilitation of Border Crossing Procedures for Passengers, Luggage and Load-luggage Carried in International Traffic by Rail.

From the users’ point of view, advance information and awareness on procedures concerning international train journeys are more important than difference in them. In this regard, there are appears no official/ public resources that provide necessary information on railway routes, services, regulations, and description of the procedures for different intercountry routes in the region. In addition, there is also lack of appropriate framework on other aspects that are important for rail customers passengers’ rights and obligations. International benchmark provides availability of good practical cases and pilot projects, such as advance information for foreign passengers on all procedures related to train journey, special commercial offers linked to international passenger transport, accessibility maps, etc.

These factors decrease competitiveness of international railway passenger transport along the TARN.

More intercountry passenger trains could change the density of international services in the region. Unlike present dominance of such trains within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), future passenger trains could also be operated in Southeastern and Western Asia as countries of these regions are considering introducing high-speed railways for international connections that would increase importance of streamlined border crossing formalities and related requirements. 

COVID-19 pandemic struck while the study was being completed. Given, the deep impact pandemic is having and would have on railway passenger transport, the study report briefly mentions on the implications of the pandemic and makes few policy recommendations for decision-makers in TARN member countries, primarily on coping with asynchronous re-establishment of services. At the time of finalizing this study, the pandemic is still not contained and therefore a more detailed study to understand its complete impact on range of issues in railway passenger transport is warranted.

Based on the existing legal framework and analysis of major challenges for rail administrations and for rail users – the study proposes recommendations to further strengthen international passenger transport in the region that includes developing a common strategic vision for international railway passenger transport for the region duly adopted by TARN members.

This could include such areas as: development of international rail passenger links as a part of regional connectivity in ESCAP countries; promotion of seamless international passenger journeys; improvement and promotion of international rail-based passenger intermodal services; coordination of actions/initiatives on rail passenger transport among different international organizations (coordination of visions and strategies regarding passenger services; promotion of e-ticketing, electronic interoperability and use of digital technologies; promotion of rail passenger services, harmonization of tariffs and their affordability); and development of touristic services and products in ESCAP region focusing on sustainable and accessible rail tourism with comfortable connections to other transport modes and services.
 

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