CIM consignment note

A transport document specifies the terms of the contract for the carriage of goods. This type of document is used in the air (airwaybill), sea (bill of lading), road (CMR), and rail transport. For rail freight, the SMGS and the CIM rail consignment notes are used. When is the CIM consignment note needed?

What is the CIM consignment note?

The CIM consignment note (Rail Transport Document) is a document proving the conclusion of a transport contract with a railway undertaking. The contract is concluded when the railway undertaking accepts the shipment, and the dispatch station’s stamp (a date stamp) is placed on the consignment note. The consignment note is signed/stamped by the sender and the carrier. The CIM is not a Bill of Lading.

The CIM consists of five printouts:

  • original consignment note for the receiver of the shipment (consignee)
  • invoice for carrier and supplementary sheet for carriers who invoice intermediate section
  • arrival note/customs for destination customs office/destination carrier
  • duplicate of the consignment note for the sender (consignor), as well as a supplementary sheet
  • duplicate invoice for the forwarding carrier.

It is allowed to draw up a consignment note and its duplicate in electronic form.

Data in the CIM

Each consignment should have its separate consignment note. The CIM contains the following data:

  • place and date of issue
  • the name of the destination station
  • the name and address of the consignee
  • the name and address of the consignor
  • the description of the goods, also whether they are subject to RID
  • if less than wagon loads, the number of packages along with a description
  • the number of the wagon and, for privately-owned wagons, the tare
  • a detailed list of the documents which are required by Customs or other administrative authorities.
CIM consignment note form

In which countries is the CIM used?

The CIM note is used in most European countries and in several countries in Asia and Africa that are party to the COTIF convention. COTIF was established by the Intergovernmental Organization for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF). The Convention shapes the rules concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail (CIM), as well as Passengers and Luggage (CIV). It also regulates the use of vehicles and infrastructure in International Rail Traffic.

The sender issues this consignment note in the country of dispatch’s language with a translation into one of three languages: French, German, or English.

COTIF’s scope:

  • the EU Member States, under Council Decision 2013/103/EU: Austria, Lithuania, Belgium, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Latvia, Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Portugal, Estonia, Romania, Finland, Slovakia, France, Slovenia, Greece, Sweden, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland (Malta and Cyprus do not have a railway system)
  • Great Britain
  • Ukraine
  • Turkey
  • Algeria
  • Morocco
  • Tunisia
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Iran
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia
  • Armenia
  • Serbia
  • Albania
  • Montenegro
  • Kosovo
  • North Macedonia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Switzerland
  • Norway.
COTIF's scope
Scope of freight traffic under CIM

Articles not acceptable for carriage under the CIM consignment note

You cannot move under the CIM:

  • articles the carriage of which is the postal authorities’ monopoly in any one of the territories in which the articles are moved
  • articles which, because of their dimensions, mass, or packaging, are not suitable for the carriage proposed, having regard to the installations or rolling stock of any one of the railways which would be used
  • articles the carriage of which is prohibited in any one of the territories on the way
  • others established in the CIM contract.

Some articles can be moved, but subject to conditions:

  • railway rolling stock running on its wheels
  • funeral consignments
  • live animals
  • those excluded in exceptional circumstances.

More on the CIM

The CIM stands for Uniform Rules concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail. While its primary rules were laid out in the COTIF convention in 1980 in Bern, it has been modified over the years.

Both the sender (consignor) and the receiver (consignee) have the right to modify the carriage contract. The contract regulates these cases.

What is the difference between the CIM and the SMGS?

CIM is not the only one consignment note in international rail. There is also an SMGS international rail consignment note. The main distinction is the scope of these two consignment notes. The CIM is mainly used in Western Europe, while the SMGS is valid in Eastern Europe. Therefore, the CIM is translated into English, German, or French, whereas the SMGS is issued in Chinese or Russian, aside from the original one. Moreover, when moving dangerous goods under the SMGS, additional markings are used.

If the consignment is sent from France to Russia, the route from the forwarding station to Poland is under the CIM letter. After crossing a railway border crossing (e.g. in Malaszewicze) to Belarus, an SMGS consignment note is applied until the goods reach the Russian destination station.

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