Wednesday 4 May 2022

CIT: 120 years for the benefit of the railways

Martino Limoncello, CIT trainee

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The International Railway Transport Committee (CIT) is an international association based in Bern. Its mission is to help railway undertakings implement international transport law, standardise contractual relationships and save members money by supporting their businesses. CIT’s foundations were set at the end of the 19th century, making international transport one of the first fields to implement international law. 2022 is a special year since marks the association’s 120th anniversary.

The very beginning

The first international treaty setting rules for international transport was signed in Bern in 1890 and came into force in 1893. Soon afterwards, railway companies in some European countries decided to organise an international assembly in order to implement these legal provisions.

A new entity is born

Cooperation between railway companies was strengthened in the years that followed. The process of standardisation of international rules continued and the representatives met regularly. On 26 April 1902, the Italian city of Milan hosted the eighth international meeting. On that day, the participating railway undertakings unanimously approved the internal rules of procedure and CIT was officially founded. Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria-Hungary and Switzerland were the first countries to be represented.

First steps

Various initial projects were implemented following the official foundation of the Committee. In 1904, the second version of the convention on the dispatching of goods and the sharing of indemnities concerning international transport was drafted. The decision-making procedure allowed states to make claims during the debates and a voting system was adopted.

The World Wars and their consequences for the railways

International railway law continued to be integrated during the second decade of the century. Not only national administrations but also regional companies joined CIT. In 1914, the First World War broke out and Europe was put under unprecedented political pressure. International relations halted and the integration of the railways suffered. CIT was reconstituted in 1921.

Documents show that in 1927, CIT was already working with the existing international organisations for railways, such as UIC.

In 1933, ticketing aspects were brought into the discussion for the first time. The aim was to create a standard ticket for international journeys.


At the end of the Second World War, Europe needed to be rebuilt both from an architectural and an institutional point of view. CIT was included in this process, so that members restarted their work under a new managing administration and on the basis of a new procedure. Cooperation between CIT and other international entities was strengthened during this period. There was innovation in the ticketing field with the creation of a collective ticket model.

The 1950s

The 1950s was a very significant decade for international railway integration. Key developments during this period related to the liability of railway undertakings in the event of death or injury, multimodal goods transport, the international wagon note, and links between East and West Europe.

The second half of the 20th century

During the 1960s and the 1970s, CIT members worked mainly on consolidation and development of existing projects. The CIV and CIM were revised several times, followed by CIT product implementation. In 1964, a new project in collaboration with UNECE concerning a wagon note was discussed. In 1968, the members discussed the arbitration procedure to be followed, inspired by UIC rules. In the second half of the 1970s, liability for failure to meet deadlines was brought into the discussion.

Liberalisation, digitalisation and COTIF 99

Like in any other sector, digitalisation plays an important role for the railways. The first technological innovations, particularly concerning data, emerged in the second half of the 1980s. In 1985, the Committee discussed an instrument that could replace the wagon note and exchange data automatically.

EU regulations required a separation between operations and infrastructure, and OTIF had to analyse the consequences of this development under transport law. Finally, on June 3 1999 in Vilnius, the new Convention on International Carriage by Rail (COTIF) was passed. The implementation of the new COTIF became a major component of CIT’s work. Legal solutions to improve the connection between Asia and Europe was another key CIT activity.

Today, CIT continues its mission and is working on several projects concerning the use of infrastructure, multimodality, passengers, and goods transport.

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