The rail forwarding contract

Transport law


The forwarding contract belongs to the category of named contracts of the civil law, which means that its basic legal regulation can be found in specific provisions of the Civil Code. In practice, forwarding does not have to mean using only cars as means of transport, quite often railways play an important role in this scope. Can we speak about the rail forwarding contract in such a situation?

Forwarding contract

According to article 794 of the Civil Code, by a forwarding contract a forwarder undertakes, for remuneration, within the scope of his company, to forward or receive a consignment or to render other services connected with its carriage. The Freight Forwarder can act on his own behalf or on behalf of the Customer.

The forwarding contract must not be confused with the contract of carriage – in practice it is much broader than a simple carriage. The forwarder has to perform many different activities, not only those of a transport nature. As it was pointed out by the Supreme Court in the judgment of 18 January 1971 (file ref. I CR 566/70), forwarding services have the character of professional assistance in goods carriage, and that this assistance should, as a rule, also include giving advice as to drawing up business documents related to the carriage in such a way as to avoid difficulties in receiving shipments.

Rail Freight Forwarding

Transport carried out as part of a freight forwarding service may take various forms – the most common is by road, although there are equally frequent opportunities to ship goods by air, sea and rail. The choice of the form of transport depends, of course, on the parties to the existing commitment, not without significance is also the cost of a given shipping option and the length of the entire route that the supplier has to cover.

The main advantage of rail forwarding is the transport of goods of significant weight and quantity over long distances. This type of forwarding is also more independent from weather conditions than it is in the case of transport by road, and sometimes even by air. Rail forwarding means also the reduction of road congestion, and consequently the reduction of the number of accidents and road collisions.

Railway forwarding contract

In fact, each type of forwarding requires conclusion of an appropriate contract, so it also concerns railway forwarding. The distinctive feature of the given obligations is the form of transport.

Material elements of the forwarding contract include:

  • marking of the consignment (the parties must know what is to be transported),
  • remuneration (the forwarding contract is a contract against payment),
  • type and scope of the forwarding service (in case of railway forwarding it will be obviously transport carried out by trains and wagons),
  • the rights and obligations of the forwarder and the party ordering the forwarding.

The forwarding contract is more complex than a typical transport contract. The Freight Forwarder can undertake to render other services, different from the transport of particular goods. It is worth pointing out, however, that the forwarding contract cannot have as its object only “other services”, as the literal wording of the provision might indicate as a result of the use of the conjunction “or”. In the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Białystok of 7 April 2017. (ref. I ACa 894/16), it was indicated that in the light of Article 794 §1 of the Civil Code, services other than strictly forwarding may be the subject of forwarding, but only when they occur simultaneously with the provision of forwarding in terms of sending or receiving the shipment”. Thus, between the parties there should be first of all a service concerning the dispatch or receipt of a consignment. Therefore, it appears that this is simply an unfortunate formulation of the said provision by the legislator.

The use of rail forwarding does not mean that other forms of transport cannot be used within the same contract. It is permissible and, in fact, frequent that goods are first transported to the railway station by car, then they travel by train, and finally they are delivered also using the car transport service. Therefore, the Freight Forwarder has the possibility to apply combined methods of transport using all available means and methods – obviously with the prior consent of the Customer. It should be remembered that the description of the mode of transport is an essential element of each forwarding contract.

In rail forwarding containers or wagons are most frequently used. There are also platforms designed typically for a given type of cargo, such as wagons for mass transport of coal, wood or metals, cisterns for the transport of liquids and also refrigerated trucks for the transport of fresh food and perishable goods. The use of containers in multimodal transport saves time and money, as there is no need to reload each time the means of transport is changed.

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