The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has been championing the use of the rail network to transport mail internationally for a number of years.
In April 2017, it set up a task force dedicated to exploring the best reasons for delivering postal items by rail, with the aim of enhancing the connectivity and efficiency of the global postal network.
During Covid-19, this initiative was put to the test when air transportation was suspended due to global lockdowns and many operators looked for alternative ways to deliver cross border.
“The pandemic brought about a large-scale and longer-than-expected suspension of international air transportation,” says UPU Transport Programme Manager, Ján Bojnanský. “The shortages in air capacity resulted in huge backlogs or even the suspension of some outbound services to certain destinations.”
According to Bojnanský, rail transport gained much attention from designated operators during the pandemic as it offered an attractive alternative for cross border delivery. In April 2020, the UPU-Rail Contact Committee, which was established in November 2018 and evolved from the task force, worked with China Post, Lithuania Post, Polish Post and railway operators to set up mail-only block trains from China to Lithuania and to Poland to clear the huge backlog of mail destined for Europe.
“This was part of a China to Europe rail delivery project that has been ongoing for almost five years and is in regular operation now,” explains Bojnanský. “The route handles an average of 5-6 containers per week, with a total weight of 120-170 tons per month. This project highlights the fact that rail transport of international mail is a viable solution for UPU member countries, and the current experiences could also guide duplication in other parts of the world.”
Transport on the China to Europe route takes between 12-14 days, which can limit the type of mail product that is suited to travelling by train, according to Bojnanský. “However, the speed of the trains has been on the rise and the transit time has reduced, which will in turn attract more volumes to this mode of transport,” he says.
The UPU-Rail Contact Committee has now been transformed into the UPU-Rail Forum with the aim of providing a more open cooperation platform. One of the key areas the Forum is currently working on, in close collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the railway organizations, is the legal and operational obstacles associated with rail transportation of mail. “All parties are endeavoring to see how customs and operational procedures could be harmonized and simplified,” explains Bojnanský.
The UPU-Rail Forum is working with the WCO, for example, to help develop the WCO Railway Guidance, which promotes “electronic customs transit and railway postal procedures,” notes Bojnanský. “Furthermore, the proposed piloting of CARDIT/RESDIT exchanges between designated operators and rail carriers received positive feedback from participants in a session of the Forum held on June 9. Pilots are expected to be carried out in late 2021 or early 2022,” he concludes.