Growing intraregional trade, on the one hand, and increasing concerns about energy security and the adverse effects of transport on the environment, on the other, has made the countries of the Asia-Pacific region more appreciative of the role of railways as an efficient, safe and environmentally sound mode of transport. The entry into force of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network in 2009 signalled the readiness of member countries to cooperate on railway projects of international importance and work together on the development of efficient railway transport corridors to serve growing intraregional trade.
The outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — “The future we want” — emphasized that sustainable transport is central to sustainable development and thus high on the agenda of global development. This has provided a renewed impetus to develop environmentally sound railway transport, which is efficient, competitive and complementary to other modes of transport.
Despite the region’s continued increase in containerized trade and the inherent advantages of railway transport to efficiently carry large volumes of goods over long distances, most railway operators in the region have failed to capitalize on the increase in international trade in all but a limited way. In particular, despite the launch of a number of international container block-train services, they are still struggling to establish themselves as an efficient alternative to either shipping or long-haul road transport in the eyes of many shippers.
There will be a need to simplify, standardize and further harmonize technical and operational requirements among member countries; these will need action at government level. Legal and technical issues were partly addressed by member countries of two important international railway organizations, but substantial differences on these issues still persist between these organizations. Also, there are many countries in Asia that are not a member of any international railway organization. In addition, regulatory issues require further streamlining so that they do not impede railway operations.
The Regional Cooperation Framework may be used by member States and their development partners in harmonizing requirements for international railway transport across the region, with the ultimate objective of having a regional agreement on the facilitation of international railway transport. The Regional Cooperation Framework identifies four fundamental issues in the facilitation of international railway transport and 11 areas for cooperation among member countries and their development partners to further promote and support international railway transport in the region.