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UIC crisis could last until Christmas

20 May 2008

Current tensions over the leadership and direction of the International Union of Railways could last until the end of this year, according to insiders attending the organisation's statutory meetings in Seoul on May 18 – 19. Chris Jackson reports from Korea

Although the Provisional Administrator appointed by the French Court of First Instance to manage the International Union of Railways was given an initial term of six months from mid-April, there are strong expectations that her remit will be extended as long as necessary.

Béatrice Dunogué-Gaffié has spent her first weeks talking to all parties within the organisation, including the executive board, permanent staff and the members of the regional and general assemblies. She indicated in Seoul that at this stage she is still focusing on getting a clear understanding of the background to the current problems and the views of the different parties, and is not yet in a position to take any opinion on the various arguments. There are indications that the fact-finding could last for several more weeks, and that the Administrator will not be ready to bring forward any proposals for reform until the autumn.

The problems have their roots in the new statutes adopted in 2006, which were intended to reinforce UIC’s growing role as ‘a worldwide railway organisation’, and continue to move it away from its European roots. Member railways from Asia and Africa in particular feel that this process is not moving fast enough, whilst the European members are reportedly reluctant to embrace change. Although the European railways only have four places on the 21-member executive board, they still contribute around 70% of the membership income, and want this to be reflected in the organisation’s spending as well. The ‘world’ camp would like to see a much greater focus on transferring skills and expertise to their railways and addressing more global issues.

Whilst newer European bodies such as CER and EIM have taken the lead in liaison with the European Union institutions over strategic and political issues, UIC has been reluctant to surrender its role in technical leadership, with many working groups actively involved in issues such as ERTMS, interoperability or the Trans-European Networks programme, for which it has been getting EU funding.

Whilst Dunogué-Gaffié is tasked with bringing forward reforms that will address the inconsistencies in the UIC statutes and their interpretation, getting to the bottom of the concerns over funding and focus are likely to prove the biggest challenge. Whilst the 'world' members would like to see UIC focusing more on global issues, it will be difficult to move the organisation's focus further without addressing the issue of funding. Without the European railways' continuing contributions, it would be impossible for UIC to continue its operations at the same level, and the Europeans are naturally keen to ensure that they get an equitable share of the spending on issues that directly concern them.

At the moment, UIC is trying to project an image of ‘business as usual’, although it is not clear how long this will be able to continue. Questions are even being asked whether it should continue to have its headquarters in Paris, and why the administration process is being conducted through the French legal system. But that might be one step too far for the current Administrator to address.