Participating members included TCDD and TCDD Taşımacılık A.Ş. (Turkey), RAI (Iran), IRR (Iraq), ARA (Afghanistan), ARC (Jordan), and CFS and SHR (Syria).
The meeting was opened by Ali İhsan Uygun, Chairman of the Board, Director General of TCDD and Chairman of RAME, who said: “I think the following quote by Mr Davenne during the recent meetings was quite important: ‘We all face this pandemic and have to find alternative solutions to cooperate’. I would like to express my faith in these meetings to accelerate regional cooperation and constitute a solid ground for future regional plans and activities, even though we have to meet virtually.
Despite the pandemic, we, as RAME members, have cooperatively maintained our forward-looking works. However, we must be strict followers of the UIC “new normal” initiative and sustainably adapt to unpredictable situations such as the pandemic. We all acknowledge the importance of cooperation and solidarity in regional works and joint activities.
As you know, we have realised many activities contributing to the improvement of regional cooperation in railways thanks to the support of UIC and RAME. We held a webinar in November 2020 on railway safety and level crossings. I hope every participant will be pleased with the results. Additionally, a “Railway Training – best practices” webinar is going to be held on 5 July 2021 in cooperation with the Africa Regional Assembly, and I am going to make an opening speech to highlight the importance of training activities. I hope participants in this webinar will benefit from fruitful results. Mr Wisniewski is going to share further information on the aforementioned webinar.
Moreover, information on the working groups and existing projects within UIC will be shared with esteemed members in order to ensure their participation and benefit.
No doubt such activities contribute to the knowledge and experience of railway sector employees and open new horizons for the future. Therefore, organising events such as workshops, webinars, training sessions and conferences considering the present and future needs of our region and participation of our members in such events has great importance.”
Mr İhsan Uygun’s introduction was followed by words of welcome from Saeed Rasouli, Iranian Vice-Minister for Roads and Urban Development and Chairman of the Board and President of RAI. He said: “Fortunately, during the last eight years, the total main and subsidiary lines of our country’s railways have reached 15,041 kilometres, which shows a 40% increase. Also last year, despite the closure of most borders for about four months, the railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran managed to grow by 29% in rail transit compared to the previous year and in rail exports by about 5% with the cooperation of countries in the region. Our exchanges with Turkey through the rail network last year reached more than 650,000 tonnes, which broke the record for the last ten years of rail transport between the two countries.
With the cooperation of state-owned trading companies, customs and the Ports and Maritime Organisation, a great event has taken place in the field of transportation of basic goods in the country. The direct transport of goods from ship to train, which was implemented in the country’s ports after 15 years, has played an important role in increasing the speed of cargo movement and reducing the cost of transporting goods.
One of the most important developments in the future world is the discussion of knowledge and technology-based development. Along with this approach, RAI has started its development vision document and, accordingly, its development plans with a focus on know-how. And the schedule of RAI included the opening of the RAI Development Centre on 14 July 2020, with the centre due to celebrate its one-year anniversary in the next few days. The purpose of establishing this centre is to reduce the distance between the university and industry. One of the most important assets in Iran is the existing scientific capacity in the country, which has brought about very good progress in various fields. For this reason, we established a University Contact Unit for the first time in RAI, and now in the RAI Development Centre, experts are in charge of the University Contact Unit, knowledge-based companies, and research centres.
During the last year, 23 technological events with the desired standards have been held in this centre. Priorities have also been set and 176 issues have been identified. So far, 26 working groups have been formed to work on important issues and provide the necessary solutions for each case.
In the end, I wish that with the continuous observance of health protocols and global and regional cooperation, we will witness the eradication of the global coronavirus, and as soon as possible, all the people of our countries will be vaccinated and safe and passenger trains will continue to work more actively than before.”
Finally, François Davenne, UIC Director General, said: “2021 was a very difficult year, but we succeeded collectively in keeping our members’ confidence. The satisfaction survey shows that a close link has been preserved with global satisfaction, which increased from 65% to 75%, a response rate which increased from 17% to 29%, dynamism increasing from 56% to 66% , and project management increasing from 60% to 68%. UIC will continue to implement its strategy with three key phrases: accountability, focus and development of interregional activities. Also, there is a development in interregional projects mobilising public financing, ensuring that key UIC developments such as FRMCS can be used internationally and that we can develop together the technical specifications for the future railways. UIC has a precise and highly operational role for railways: we are delivering key tools for networks to safely perform. We can collectively be proud of what have achieved.”
All three men acknowledged how UIC’s RAME members had successfully continued their work and had remained united in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Webinars had proven to be an effective way of working and this format will remain useful in the months to come.
A full report on the activities of the UIC Regional Office in the first half of 2021 was presented by the RAME office. Activities included several video conferences, such as the UIC RAME webinars on RSF and research, corridors as a tool to boost international freight, and a first webinar on railway safety and level crossings. A list of the 88 main UIC working groups was also collated, as was a report on the 140 UIC projects (completed and ongoing) with all of the relevant details. All documents relating to RAME meetings were uploaded to the UIC Extranet, a booklet on effective factors in increasing freight transport in Europe and Asia was compiled, the map of Middle Eastern railways was updated (2021), and the UIC RAME website and RAME directory were updated on a regular basis. Arrangements have been made to hold a UIC webinar on “Railway training – best practices” for RAME members with the collaboration of the UIC African Region on 5 July.
Thierry Béra, UIC Director of Finance, provided a report on the RAME budget and financial issues. Passenger Director Marc Guigon introduced a report on UIC passenger activities and the UIC Passenger Department and actions completed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
An update on the 2021-2022 action plan was provided by Jerzy Wisniewski, UIC Coordinator for the Middle East, together with UIC RAME members. Mr Wisniewski informed the participants that he was approaching retirement and that Marc Guigon would be the coordinator for the Middle East during the coming months.
To conclude, the RAME railways’ Directors General and Presidents (TCDD, RAI) provided a report on the projects and achievements of UIC RAME members and their respective railways. H.E Wali Khan Shabgeer, Chairman of the Afghanistan Rail Authority (ARA), reported that railway development in Afghanistan is becoming “the Asian roundabout, where goods, ideas and people will flow in all directions”. Against this backdrop, investment has been channeled to unlock connectivity potential. ARA plans to construct over 5,000 km of railways in the country. Around 230 km of railway links have already been constructed, connecting Afghanistan with three neighboring countries – Iran in the west and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the north – through four different corridors. Despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ARA was able to complete a number of major railway projects in 2020 and obtain membership of OTIF. In January this year, a roadmap to build the Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar route via Kabul was put in place in cooperation with Pakistan and Uzbekistan. This project will open Pakistani seaports on the Arabian Gulf to Uzbekistan and will continue Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s gradual integration into the Central Asian economic system.
The Afghanistan Railway Authority is also planning to connect to Pakistan through Speen Boldak of Kandahar and is planning to assess connections between Ghulam Khan and Miramshah. Connecting with Tajikistan via Shirkhan port is also under consideration. Besides focusing on major development projects, transforming the Afghanistan Railway Authority into a strong regulatory, technically empowered, modern and digitalised institution to advance connectivity objectives also remains a key priority for the government.
To further strengthen cooperation among members, ARA is interested in a partnership with the UIC Middle East Railway Training Centre and to use the platform to explore the possibility of establishing an expert pool to share best practices with other UIC members.
The 28th RAME meeting will be held in Istanbul if possible.