This oldpway article explains the International Railway Congress (IRC) and the International Railway Congress Association (IRCA), including what they did, their publications and how they relate to old permanent way.
The International Railway Congress Association (IRCA) was formed in 1885. Its purpose was to facilitate the exchange of information about railway construction, equipment and operation between railway companies throughout the world, and to develop best practices by sharing knowledge.
The IRCA fulfilled its purpose by
(1) publishing monthly bulletins which reported all the latest railway developments
and (2) by holding regular international conferences (called congresses).
The first congress was held in Brussels in 1885. It was attended by the delegates of 19 governments and 131 railway administrations representing 31,500 miles. The 1937 congress was held in Paris. By then the IRCA had a membership of about 126 European railways, 28 in Asia and Australasia, 24 in Africa, and 25 in the Americas, and the railway administrations controlled the operation of nearly 319,000 miles of railway.
At each congress a set of questions to be discussed were agreed in advance.
The questions came under five sections:
(1) way and works,
(2) locomotives and rolling-stock,
(5) light railways.
For each question one or more "reporters" were appointed. It was their responsibility to circulate questionnaires to all railways prior to the congress and to compile a report containing the answers, together with a summary and comments. These reports therefore provide detailed contemporary records of railway design and practice, including of permanent way design when the question dealt with that. These reports were published in the IRCA bulletins ahead of the congress and then were presented and discussed at length at the congress. The discussion at the congress led to recommendations for best practice, which enabled railways to develop in the best way. The congress proceedings were published in full and bulletins after the congress also reported the discussions and recommendations.
The IRC reports included information from railways in Britain, Europe, India, Australia and America, so they recorded design used throughout the world.
The congresses were initially held every 3 years, but then became 5 yearly and eventually about 4 yearly. The congresses held from 1885 to 2001 were as follows.
|1st||8-15 August 1885||Brussels, Belgium|
|2nd||17-24 September 1887||Milan, Italy|
|3rd||14-23 September 1889||Paris, France|
|4th||August-September 1892||St.Petersburg, Russia|
|5th||June-July 1895||London, Great Britain|
|6th||September-October 1900||Paris, France|
|7th||3-14 May 1905||Washington, USA|
|8th||July 1910||Bern, Switzerland|
|9th||April 1922||Rome, Italy|
|10th||June 1925||London, Great Britain|
|11th||May 1930||Madrid, Spain|
|12th||January 1933||Cairo, Egypt|
|13th||31 May - 11 June 1937||Paris, France|
|14th||27-28 June 1947||Lucerne, Switzerland|
|15th||25 September - 4 October 1950||Rome, Italy|
|16th||26-29 May 1954||London, Great Britain|
|17th||29 September - 7 October 1958||Madrid, Spain|
|18th||(22?) June 1962||Munich, Germany|
|19th||(11?) June 1966||Paris, France|
|20th||17-22 May 1971||London, Great Britain (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|21st||(15?) September 1975||Bologna, Italy (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|22nd||7-12 May 1979||Stockholm, Sweden (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|23rd||27 September - 1 October 1982||Malaga, Spain (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|24th||6-10 May 1985||Brussels, Belgium (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|25th||22-26 May 1989||Moscow, Russia (IRCA/UIC Congress)|
|26th||6-10 September 1993||Lisbon, Portugal (IRCA/UIC World Railway Congress)|
|27th||6-10 October 1997||Marrakech, Morocco (IRCA/UIC World Railway Congress)|
|28th||25-28 September 2001||Vienna, Austria (IRCA-UIC-ECMT World Railway Congress)|
It was decided in 1968 that, because most members of the IRCA were also members of the UIC (International Union of Railways, which had been founded in 1922), the congress would henceforth be organised jointly by the IRCA and the UIC. The 20th (1971) and following congresses were therefore named "IRCA/UIC Congress". From the 26th (1993) congress they were named "IRCA/UIC World Railway Congress". The 28th (2001) World Railway Congress was held jointly with the ECMT (European Conference of Ministers of Transport). The ECMT had been established in 1953 as a result of work by the OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Co-operation) which implemented the Marshall plan by which the USA gave aid to European countries following the end of the second world war.
The IRCA monthly bulletins were discontinued at the end of 1969. They were replaced by “Rail International – Schienen der Welt”, published jointly by the IRCA and UIC, which merged (1) the IRCA monthly bulletin, (2) the IRCA monthly bulletin "Cybernetics and electronics on the railways", (3) the International Union of Railways bulletin, and (4) the International Union of Railways Office for Research and Experiments bulletin.
For information about old permanent way, the publications that are useful are the monthly bulletins of the IRCA and the International Railway Congress Proceedings (which were published in summary form and as full proceedings). There are also separate printings of some individual papers.
All IRCA publications were published by "P.Weissenbruch" in Brussels. Initially the monthly bulletins and conference proceedings were only published in French. The bulletins were published in both French and English editions from 1896 onwards. The conference proceedings were published in both French and English editions from the fifth congress (in 1895) onwards. The conference proceedings were normally published in the year following the congress. For example, the sixth congress was held in 1900 and the proceedings were published in 1901. Note that these publications are many hundreds of pages long, and some are a few thousand pages spread over a number of volumes.
The items which are of most interest relating to old permanent way design, in the years 1885 to 1910, are as follows. More details of these items will be put on the oldpway guide page (when time permits). These qustions are all in section 1, way and works, unless otherwise stated. Note that all IRC work for the 1885 to 1892 congresses was done in French and only published in French (but English translations of the titles are given here).
The IRCA publications (and related material) of which oldpway currently has copies are as follows. When possible all permanent way information from these publications will be put on oldpway.info.
Some convenient library holdings of IRCA publications are as follows.
National Railway Museum (Search Engine library), holds at least:
British Library, holds at least:
National Archives, holds at least:
Cambridge University Library, holds:
National Library of Scotland, holds:
Some volumes of some IRCA publications can be read on-line on www.archive.org, including at the following links:
For another list of publications by the IRCA, and where they are held, see WorldCat IRCA publications list. But this webpage does not include the conference proceedings, presumably as these are listed as not having IRCA as the author. More recent IRC proceedings were published by the "Railway Gazette".
For more information about the IRCA, it may be useful to look at the 1935 book "The Centenary of the European railways and fifty years activity of the International Railway Congress Association: notes and remembrances" as listed on the WorldCat link above.
In 1980, the IRCA membership included 85 railways, 30 governments and 16 organisations, and the mission statement of the IRCA was as follows:
The IRCA aims to encourage the development of railway transport by intensifying exchanges of experience between its members through all necessary means, notably:
These activities are conducted in closest possible cooperation with other international railway organisations.
The IRCA is open to railways more than 100km in length, to countries and to various railway authorities. It is based in Brussels in Belgium.
The essential activity of the IRCA is the organisation, in principle every four years, of a congress to review the situation in the different fields of railway activity. The congresses have an informative capacity.
The official publications are now the review “Rail International – Schienen der Welt” and the “Summary of International Railway Documentation”, and both of these are now published jointly by the IRCA and UIC.