According to the Freight Railroad State Data report by the Association of American Railroads, freight trains move over 1.7 billion tons of cargo across 140,000 miles of tracks annually, in the United States.

This volume is equivalent to nearly one-third of all US exports and around 40% of long-haul cargo volume. Like any other mode of freight transportation, rail shipments involve different documents.

One of the most important pieces of documentation is the rail waybill, which is a contract of carriage between the shipper or consignee and the rail. In this article, we’ll discuss what a railway bill is, explain how it’s processed, and also what type of information you can find on one.

What Is A Rail Waybill

A rail waybill, also known as CIM (which stands for ‘Convention Internationale concernant le transport des Marchandises par chemin de fer’) or SMGS in Eastern and Western Europe, is a rail transport document used as a contract of carriage between the railway administrator and the shipper or consignee of the shipment.

Similar to an ocean Bill of Lading, a rail waybill is a non-negotiable transport document nominating the rail carrier to transport the goods. The waybill needs to be issued according to the COTIF (Convention Concerning International Carriage by Rail) laws and the CIM (Uniform Rules Concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail).

rail waybill
A Rail Waybill

While its main purpose is to act as a contract of carriage between both parties, it is also used to confirm that the rail carrier has received the cargo from the sender upon handover.

It also legally binds both parties and proves that a contract exists between them. Rail waybills are typically issued on collection or receipt of the cargo by the rail carrier. The document outlines instructions and details related to the shipment, such as the consignor names, destination, route, and more. 

How Are Rail Waybills Processed

In this section, we’ll be explaining how rail waybills are processed in terms of issuance, acceptance, transportation, delivery, and collection.


The first step involves the shipper’s representative preparing the details of the shipment so that the rail carrier can issue the rail waybill. The bill includes all the mandatory information related to the shipment, including the shipper and consignee information (name, contact, address, etc.), goods description (type, weight, quantity, etc.), destination, and more. 


Once the carrier receives all required details about the shipment, they review it thoroughly to ensure it’s complete and accurate, before they issue the railway bill to the shipper.

Any errors or omissions will have to be revised and confirmed by the shipper or their representative, in order to prevent any disputes or other issues during or following transit. 


Once the carrier issues the rail waybill, the cargo (goods, containers, etc.) is loaded onto the railcar or wagon and transported to the delivery point. Many shippers usually opt for carriers offering rail and truck freight services since moving various types of cargo via rail usually requires intermodal transport at both points during the transit. 


Once the cargo arrives at its destination, the carrier informs the consignee that the goods or containers are ready for delivery or pickup. In many cases, the consignee proactively decides how they want their cargo to be delivered.

For instance, they can ask the carrier to deliver it or hire a third-party trucking company to move it. Some consignees have their dedicated fleet of trucks, which they send to load and transport their cargo once it arrives. 


Before the cargo is released to the consignee, the carrier must be provided with the original rail waybill as proof of cargo ownership. Once the consignee provides the copy, they can collect the cargo at the delivery point. 

What Information Is Found on a Rail Waybill

A rail waybill contains vital information about the cargo and the shipment. Below, we’ve highlighted the different types of information that rail waybills contain, including the type and quantity of goods, shipper and consignee information, transportation cost, and more.

  • Consignor – A consignor (also known as the shipper) is the person or company that is shipping the cargo. Therefore, a rail waybill contains essential information, such as the name and address of the consignor. 
  • Consignee – A consignee is the company or person to whom carriers deliver the cargo. Hence, a rail waybill contains their name, address, country, etc. 
  • Consignor’s Declaration – A consignor’s declaration is a statement that declares that the contents of the rail waybill are fully and accurately described by the shipper or consignee. 
  • Consignor’s Reference – Also known as “Contract Number”. This reference is a unique number used for internal purposes that may be related to billing, accounting, tracking, or other operational purposes.
  • Acceptance Point – The acceptance point refers to the point where the carrier receives cargo from the consignor (the shipper) for transport. It could be a freight station or a rail depot in the same or another country. 
  • Delivery Point – The delivery point refers to the destination (country, city, station, etc.) where the cargo arrives via rail on a specified date. 
  • Wagon Number – A wagon number is a number assigned to a rail wagon carrying a client’s cargo. The number is mentioned on a rail waybill to notify all relevant parties (consignee, consignor, and carrier) about the cargo’s precise location on the train. 
  • Description of Goods – Every rail waybill contains a basic description of goods, such as packaging type, warning signs, number of packages, etc. 
  • Mass – The mass of the cargo is the weight of the cargo that is being transported and is determined first by the consignor and then again by the carrier.
  • Declaration of Value – Declaration of value is an official statement that provides a short description of the cargo’s monetary value to ensure speedy custom clearances and accelerate insurance claims, in the event of damage or theft. 
  • Customs Endorsements – A rail waybill for international shipments needs to be endorsed. Consignees or shippers must list and provide details of the goods being imported or exported. 
  • NHM/GNG Code – NHM/GNG code refers to the eight-digit Harmonized Community Code of the International Union of Railways used to designate goods in the GNG.
  • Type of Consignment – The type of consignment specifies the medium used for holding cargo during transit via rails, such as a conventional wagon or container. 
  • Route – Route refers to the railways (steel rails) used by the freight train when transporting cargo from one point to another.
  • Reconsignment Point – The consignment point refers to the location where a shipment is redirected during transit to its original destination. 
  • Point & Time of Reconsignment – This refers to the location and the time at which cargo is redirected from one delivery location to another. 
  • Contractual Carrier – This part of a rail waybill outlines the details of the main contractual carrier involved in moving cargo. It includes their name, address, contact, and country.
  • Other Carriers – This part of a rail waybill outlines the detail of other contractual or third-party carriers involved in moving cargo. It includes their names, addresses, contact, and country. 
  • Date Stamp of Forwarding Station – A rail waybill contains a date stamp and sign of a forwarding station that indicates the location of where the goods have been received for its transportation. 
  • Acknowledgment of Receipt – At the end of a rail waybill, you can find an acknowledgment of receipt to confirm the details outlined in the document with a signature and the date mentioned.  
  • Consignment Number – A consignment number is a reference number that can be used to track a shipment during transit. 
  • Place & Date Completed – This refers to the place and date on which a rail waybill is created and acknowledged by the carrier. 

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.