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Technology saves time

The introduction of electronic document flow into the transportation process simplifies border crossing
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Russian Railways is developing a technology for processing freight railway bills, customs certificates and tax returns for freight exports and imports in a digital format. This technology, when used in the Russian-Finnish railway service, enables all participants in the transportation process to avoid paperwork. 

According to the data of the Working Group on Paperless Technologies in Freight Traffic, which includes representatives of Russian Railways and VR Group (Finnish railways), for 99.6% of empty cars transported from Finland to Russia and 100% of empty cars in the opposite direction were issued electronic consignment notes using an electronic signature, for 11 months of 2021. 

In the direction from Finland to Russia, 69% of loaded cars were transported using electronic documents, and 93% were processed using paperless technology in the opposite direction. At the moment any nomenclature of cargo can be transported using electronic documents, such as lumber and forest products, fertilizers, iron ore concentrate, consumer goods, and containers. 

"More than 80% of the total volume of cargo transported both from Russia to Finland and from Finland to Russia is processed electronically. At the same time, in Finland, all kinds of goods may be registered by electronic rail waybills," says Julia Stolp, a public relations representative of VR Group.
The project on using and implementing electronic documents was undertaken by Russian Railways for the first time and was initiated by the railway men themselves and approved and supported by the Government of the Russian Federation. 

"Finland was the first country with which an agreement on mutual recognition of cargo control results concluded by the Federal Customs Service of Russia was subsequently technically implemented and practically developed," says Andrey Venikov, the Head of the Division for Compliance with Customs Regulations of the Department of Customs Activity of Russian Railways’ Corporate Transportation Service Center.

The advantage of digital technology is the ability to perform all operations regardless of the location of the consignee, the carrier, or the customs declarant, as all documents and legally significant actions are performed electronically.

In 2011, Russian Railways began cooperating with their Finnish colleagues on the transition to paperless document management in international freight transportation. According to Yulia Stolp, the first test shipments of empty cars between the two countries began as early as in 2011. "By 2013, for the first time the transportation of empty cars on the network was organized using electronic consignment notes signed electronically and without paper documentation," Yury Surodin, the Head of 2010-2021 projects on digitalization of international freight traffic of Russian Railways, the Head of the working groups of JSC Russian Railways with VR Group, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, told "1520.International". 

As part of large-scale pilot shipments not only electronic consignment notes were issued, but also electronic marks of the Russian customs authorities were used, and the right of Russian exporters to a zero VAT rate was confirmed electronically. "Thus, the applied technology was comprehensive and networked and was available to all participants of international transportation without exception," explains Yury Surodin.  "Based on the results of this experiment, the Russian government decided to amend the legislation of the Russian Federation making it possible to replicate this export technology in 2018-2020 in other international transportation destinations (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia)".

At the same time, Russian and Finnish railways decided to switch to an electronic format for the transportation of goods imported into Russia. To this end, arrangements have been made for Finnish shippers to send Russian Railways, through VR (Finnish Railways), not only transportation documents in electronic form, but also shipping documents, such as invoices and packing lists. This was necessary in order to ensure the requirements of the Russian legislation on advance informing customs authorities electronically about goods imported into the territory of the EEU.Most importantly, the transfer of these documents to Russian Railways ensured the networked and comprehensive nature of the electronic service for importing goods into the territory of the Russian Federation.  

"It is now possible not only to transport cargo using electronic documents, but also to generate the necessary documents in the ETRAN system, which enables electronic opening and closing of the customs transit procedure at the border station of destination," says Yuri Surodin.

Since 2018, almost 100% of empty cars, 100% of export cargo (14-15 million tons per year) and more than 50% of import cargo on the Finnish route are transported using electronic documents with no paper. By 2021, the above-mentioned technologies tested by Finnish and Russian railways have been successfully replicated in other directions.

Carriers exchange electronic consignment notes used as the basis for an electronic transit declaration. The data set contains the identifier of the European Union customs declaration, which allows the customs service to obtain information about the control results in the country of export. 

According to Yuri Surodin, Russian Railways and VR Group have implemented a project that ensures the reception of shipping and transport documents from information systems of the neighboring Finnish party by the ETRAN system in electronic form and the subsequent issuing of all necessary customs clearances in automatic mode, which completely eliminates the human factor. "The decision to place goods under the customs transit procedure may be made automatically, after analyzing the information in the risk management system," says Andrey Venikov. "Customs control is reduced to checking documents and information thus allowing cars with goods to move without delay from the checkpoint to the final station, where the consignee performs subsequent customs operations, also using electronic forms of documents".
"It is expected that in the near future this technology will also be used on other routes," notes Yuri Surodin.

In 2021, the development of paperless freight transportation technologies was systematic. "In general, cooperation in information technology is progressing in accordance with the agreed annual plan, and digital information is transmitted in high quality and in full," Dmitry Gorokh, the Deputy Head of Russian Railways' Corporate Transportation Service Center and the Head of the working group on paperless transportation, told 1520.International. 

The annual report highlights the main areas of cooperation for 2022. In particular, the share of freight with electronic consignment notes will be increased. Studying the issue of electronization of the CIM/SMGS consignment note following the approval by state authorities of both countries of amendments to regulatory documents for Russian-Finnish railway service. Continued joint work to expand the list of shippers and the nomenclature of transported cargo within the framework of the ongoing experiment on the automated formation of transit declarations. Finally, further development of paperless technologies in transit transportation with the participation of VR Group and Russian Railways, including the use of INTERTRAN technology. "To achieve these goals, the joint working group of Russian Railways and VR Group adopted an implementation plan at its annual meeting," reports Dmitry Gorokh.

According to Yuri Surodin, the implementation of the project has led to a revolutionary change in the technology of international freight transportation, not only in Russia, but throughout the area from Western Europe to China, and has ensured transparency of foreign economic activities for the state controlling bodies of the countries participating in the transportation. "The project has made Russian electronic transport document standards international standards," the expert concludes.
Sergei Volkov

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