THE celebration of the UIC's 90th anniversary offers the rare opportunity to weigh its achievements, see where this world association of railways stands today and where it will be in 2022, when UIC celebrates its centenary.

This year will see Mr Vladimir Yakunin, chairman of Russian Railways, take over from Mr Yoshio Ishida and his successor Mr Satoshi Seino from JR East as UIC chairman. Ishisda, who held the post from 2009 to July 2012, guided the association with great personal commitment and success through a period of significant difficulty. The new chairmanship will also carry its share of challenges for the UIC against a background of rapid and profound change for railways around the world.

The 90th anniversary is first and foremost a chance to reposition UIC activities for the long term. It will also be the opportunity to sharpen the UIC's identity, its aims and fields of expertise, foster synergies with other players and overcome new challenges to continue offering leadership amid a changing railway landscape.

015-LOUBINOUX-Jean-PierreThe UIC has succeeded in adapting its mission, activities and geographic cover to become the only global and multidisciplinary railway organisation. While it is not the oldest specialist international entity promoting cooperation between railways, it is the oldest general railway organisation capable of leading projects at the request of members and requiring international cooperation on topics ranging from technical, operational and commercial issues to financial, legal or organisational matters.

The UIC was the product of a common desire shared by different states, voiced during international conferences in Portorosa in 1921 and Geneva in 1922, to concentrate into a single generalist organisation with various functions and responsibilities which up until then had been dispersed across a host of different international agreements, commissions or specialised railway conferences.

Contrary to what is often said, the UIC was not born European. The first members were from China, Japan, the near and middle east and the Soviet Union.

In the wake of the First World War and the need to rebuild the railways, the UIC's first and permanent mission was to harmonise and unify international rules and procedures for the construction and operation of railways internationally. This included technical, operational and safety issues as well as harmonisation of equipment and rolling stock, international product offerings and international financial settlement arrangements.

Many years of hard work led to the "UIC Code" encompassing 700 or so standardisation documents - UIC leaflets - covering all railway disciplines. Although they are not normally binding standards, they constitute an indisputable source of reference and railway expertise which is constantly being enriched with knowhow and best practices collected from UIC members. This fundamental mission aimed at greater harmonisation is geared to foster world interoperability for all types of equipment and will remain at the heart of the UIC's technical endeavours. One of the key issues for the next chairmanship will be to bolster and reinforce the UIC's role in defining world railway standards.

The UIC's global outreach was first embodied by information and feedback exchanges between members on topics identified important for the future development of railways. The UIC's former chairman and secretary general, Mr Louis Armand, was the first to launch international exchanges on major pioneering subjects such as high-speed, information systems and automation.

Today the UIC has 200 members from five continents and has become a unique platform where railway leaders can meet, cooperate and exchange, in the spirit of the UIC's three guiding values: unity, solidarity and universality. The UIC is a think tank for strategic issues and trends, and one of its priorities is promoting rail transport globally. UIC is also a cooperation forum for technical matters, such as standardisation, safety and security, signalling, international freight corridors and sustainable development. Our work is also grounded in agreements with leading international organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

One of the trials the UIC will face in 2013 and beyond will most certainly be the definition of its goals aimed at furthering the advantages of international railway transport taking into account economic and societal constraints.

The six UIC regions launched by Ishida in 2009 are playing an increasing role. Each region is able to set its own priorities and action plans coupled with a budget to finance regional projects. The first noteworthy results should be ready during the coming year.

The UIC will also continue its professional and technical cooperation, through its platforms, special groups, study groups and in association with industry and other players, in the quest to make rail transport more efficient, competitive and attractive to customers, and more financially viable for operators while meeting sustainable development targets.

The 90th anniversary is also the opportunity to say a big thank you to all those who have made UIC what it is and who have displayed unfaltering faith in the organisation and supported it. The future of railway transport may be testing, but it holds the promise of many more exciting years over the coming decades.