TRIVIA : International train services where 'on train' Customs Examination and Immigration checks take place

RT4038

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We have been told by various posters over the years that 'on train' Customs Examination and Immigration checks on International services are common, and that the UK is out of step by refusing to do these on Eurostar services.

I am not so sure that this 'common' nowadays and would like to collect some evidence. This is genuine 'on train' whilst in motion, so not:

(a) Customs and Immigration checks carried out 'on train' whilst the train is standing at a station, gauge changer or border post.
(b) Customs and Immigration checks carried out by passengers alighting from the through train and passing through a hall of some sort.
(c) Trains crossing international borders within an integrated immigration zone (such as Schengen, or our own CTA with Eire), where immigraton and customs examination does not take place,

Although I have travelled fairly extensively, the only one I have encountered that is still in operation is:

Kapiri Mposhi-Dar Es Salaam train, where checks are done on the move between Nakonde and Tunduma.

I believe it may take place on Helsinki-St. Petersburg line, and I'm not sure what happens on the internaional trains between Russia and former CIS states [which have a historical relationship], but no doubt someone can enlighten me.
 
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Richard Scott

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I've had checks between Czech and Austria so within Schengen zone whilst in motion, don't think this is a common occurrence. Had it a few times on Hamburg to Copenhagen train, again not every time. Probably not helpful as looks like I misread what you've said!
 
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30907

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Going N to Denmark, immigration check while stationary at Roedby, but southbound German customs boarded at Puttgarden and checked on the move.
If you have access to the ERT, the relevant symbol is (was) a building in brackets in the train column (as opposed to next to the station name).
Pre-refugee crisis it would have been normal outside Schengen for attendants to ask sleeper passengers to hand over their passports so they could sleep undisturbed - unlike the rest. I suspect that has ceased, does anyone know?
 
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rf_ioliver

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Helsinki-St.Petersburg and Moscow services have passport and customs checks on the train. The border station is Vainikkala where people get removed - generally back to Russia. Last time I did this trip there was an additional stop immediately after the border at the Russian border station of Bulovskaya for the Russian guards to get on/off, additional checks - haven't made the trip on the Allegro train yet, so there might some changes, but otherwise everything is done on train.
 

rg177

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Going N to Denmark, immigration check while stationary at Roedby, but southbound German customs boarded at Puttgarden and checked on the move.
If you have access to the ERT, the relevant symbol is (was) a building in brackets in the train column (as opposed to next to the station name).
Pre-refugee crisis it would have been normal outside Schengen for attendants to ask sleeper passengers to hand over their passports so they could sleep undisturbed - unlike the rest. I suspect that has ceased, does anyone know?
Nightjet attendant on the Vienna-Venice service did this last January. Took all passports and tickets before departure then returned them with breakfast. Granted this was unlikely to be for border control!
 

30907

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Nightjet attendant on the Vienna-Venice service did this last January. Took all passports and tickets before departure then returned them with breakfast. Granted this was unlikely to be for border control!
Interesting - actually it wouldn't be surprising if Austria was carrying out checks, given the migration flows.
On the general topic - Googling "Grenzabfertigung im Zug" found me recent Austrian legislation permitting on-train checks crossing the Hungarian border; the word "zweckmaessig" is used which I interpret as "targeted."
 

StephenHunter

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It used to be the case on TEE services back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Going N to Denmark, immigration check while stationary at Roedby, but southbound German customs boarded at Puttgarden and checked on the move.
If you have access to the ERT, the relevant symbol is (was) a building in brackets in the train column (as opposed to next to the station name).
Pre-refugee crisis it would have been normal outside Schengen for attendants to ask sleeper passengers to hand over their passports so they could sleep undisturbed - unlike the rest. I suspect that has ceased, does anyone know?
The symbol is a house as in "Customs House". The ERT timetable key no longer has one in brackets, suggesting isn't really a thing.

Also, passport handover was only really in a thing in Western Europe, I believe. Certainly not the case in the East.
 

JonasB

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They are getting rarer in Europe as the Schengen area has expanded, but as mentioned still exist between Helsinki and St Petersburg. And many years ago, before Sweden joined Schengen I was on a school trip to Germany and then all checks where done on the train.

It is also done between Sweden and Norway, although the checks are pretty random. And Swedish customs are sometimes seen on the trains across the Öresund bridge.
 

James James

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All trains going into/out of Switzerland can have this. On most borders it's about customs (after all Switzerland is part of Schengen but not the EU) so only light checking, but on the southern border there's more immigration checking.
 

rg177

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All trains going into/out of Switzerland can have this. On most borders it's about customs (after all Switzerland is part of Schengen but not the EU) so only light checking, but on the southern border there's more immigration checking.
I've never seen anything other than a cursory glance through the train by customs officials on the Italian border at Chiasso. On the last occasion they didn't even board and just wandered up and down the platform.

Meanwhile at Basel SNCF I've been subject to a pretty curt interrogation about my origin, intentions, contents of my bag, passport et al. Funny thing was I'd just been lazy as I'd only come from Basel St Johann... :lol:
 

James James

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I've never seen anything other than a cursory glance through the train by customs officials on the Italian border at Chiasso. On the last occasion they didn't even board and just wandered up and down the platform.
I've seen a few people be queried for documents on the train (in motion), although I've only ever seen people removed when standing in (IIRC) Chiasso.
 

James James

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Not 100% sure anymore, but Norway->Sweden didn't have a border stop - I can't remember if I saw anyone walking through - they tend to be hard to spot since they're often incognito on trains, but I can't see any other way for them to do checks there based on the timetable.
 

RT4038

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Not 100% sure anymore, but Norway->Sweden didn't have a border stop - I can't remember if I saw anyone walking through - they tend to be hard to spot since they're often incognito on trains, but I can't see any other way for them to do checks there based on the timetable.
But these countries are within an integrated immigration zone (covered by (c) in the OP, and therefore excluded). I am looking for places in the world where genuine 'on-train, in motion' immigration and customs checks at 'hard' borders are carried out on International trains. Such as that often mooted for Eurostar/Channel Tunnel trains.

I know this used to be done extensively, all over the place, but there has been a seismic change in the geopolitical immigration landscape since then, so what is happening now (or at least immediately pre-Covid.)?
 

erk

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The symbol still exists, but there's no examples with brackets around it.
No it doesn't appear in brackets, but there are lots of examples (at least in my copy) of the symbol not in brackets. Table 13 has three. Sometimes (when a through train uses a different route from the timetable), the symbol is also used in a footnote. E.g table 44. International tickets generally identify the border station(s), so I think it is still significant.

Perhaps we're at cross-purposes.
 

James James

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But these countries are within an integrated immigration zone (covered by (c) in the OP, and therefore excluded). I am looking for places in the world where genuine 'on-train, in motion' immigration and customs checks at 'hard' borders are carried out on International trains. Such as that often mooted for Eurostar/Channel Tunnel trains.
Norway/Sweden border is NOT actually excluded by c:
"(c) Trains crossing international borders within an integrated immigration zone (such as Schengen, or our own CTA with Eire), where immigraton and customs examination does not take place,"

Norway is not in the EU, Sweden is, hence there's a customs border.
 

JonasB

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Not 100% sure anymore, but Norway->Sweden didn't have a border stop - I can't remember if I saw anyone walking through - they tend to be hard to spot since they're often incognito on trains, but I can't see any other way for them to do checks there based on the timetable.
Sometimes they bring a dog, in those cases they are very easy to spot.
 

RT4038

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Norway/Sweden border is NOT actually excluded by c:
"(c) Trains crossing international borders within an integrated immigration zone (such as Schengen, or our own CTA with Eire), where immigraton and customs examination does not take place,"

Norway is not in the EU, Sweden is, hence there's a customs border.
Norway is not part of the EU, but is an EFTA member, so customs examination does not routinely take place.
Whatever the legal technicalities, border crossings between Sweden and Norway are not in any way similar to the situation on the 'hard' border for passengers between France (EU) and the UK, the comparison of which is the purpose of this thread.
 

MarcVD

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Russia, Belarus, the Stans, Mongolia, China, Turkey, Croatia : controls I went through took place while trains were standing still in border stations, most often for hours.

The only example I can think of is Iran. At the Turkey/Iran border, the train stops at the last Turkish station and everyone must get off for exit of Turkey formalities, but later on, the Iranian border guards make their checks while the train is in motion between Razi and Tabriz. That's only valid for passports, visas, and hand luggage, though. The contents of the luggage van is controlled during a two hours layover of the train in Tabriz.I don't know for other borders, as I didn't go further east.
 
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AlbertBeale

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Given this thread is about the situation on a 'hard' border for passengers between France (EU) and the UK, I'm not sure why exclusion (a) is relevant. Checks while the train is at the first/last station in a country can be conceptually similar to on-train-while-the-train-is-moving checks. (Providing the at-station check doesn't take so long that it adds hours to the journey - in which case it might as well be a get-off-the-train one.) I'd say a bit of extra time at a station is within the spirit and intent of the discussion, since this arose in terms of the problem of through sleepers from the UK to mainland Europe; overnight journeys are long enough that a bit of extra station dwell-time isn't a disproportionate problem.

Getting back to the question, I've had on-train checks in eastern Europe in years gone by; and in western Europe pre-Schengen/pre-EU. I'd say that UK-mainland Europe post-Brexit is analogous to intra-mainland-Europe crossings pre-EU, and the latter worked OK on board international trains. The fact that these have largely disappeared now because of Schengen etc isn't the point - the fact that when they were needed they took place on board suggests that UK-EU formalities could happen on board too if the political will was there, in situations like a sleeper to London that had been picking up at various destinations well east of Paris/Brussels, thus precluding barriers at every place someone got on.
 

James James

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Norway is not part of the EU, but is an EFTA member, so customs examination does not routinely take place.
Whatever the legal technicalities, border crossings between Sweden and Norway are not in any way similar to the situation on the 'hard' border for passengers between France (EU) and the UK, the comparison of which is the purpose of this thread.
EFTA is completely irrelevant here, and changes absolutely nothing in this regard. There is a customs border between Norway and the EU, similarly there is a customs border between Switzerland and the EU. This is not a legal technicality: whereas you can travel between EU countries without restrictions, you are subject to limits on what you can carry across these borders and/or HAVE to declare items over those limits, and those limits are enforced (if sporadically). Commercial shipments are ALWAYS processed (because they'll be over the limits). It may not have been what you intended to ask for, but it certainly is what OP specified.

In both cases, there are customs posts on the borders. It's most obvious when driving, where you'll self-declare via a red or green lane - and stop and do some paperwork when driving a lorry (although it might be possible to pre-declare online now?). It's also obvious when travelling by air, where there are only red or green lanes in Swiss and Norwegian airports* (EU countries also have the EU lane because EU arrivals don't go through customs, and I often spot arrivals from Switzerland incorrectly going through the EU lane...).

It's least obvious on the train, and it's entirely possible you have to get off the train yourself to declare goods at the Norwegian border. But they can do the enforcement (of people who didn't declare) on the train in any case.

And this entire setup could be quite relevant for e.g. a UK/Ireland customs border (if less relevant for Eurostar).

* Norway has separate domestic arrivals without customs lanes, and Switzerland only has minimal numbers of domestic flights - which are primarily used for connections to international flights - hence forces domestic travellers through customs.
 
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RT4038

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EFTA is completely irrelevant here, and changes absolutely nothing in this regard. There is a customs border between Norway and the EU, similarly there is a customs border between Switzerland and the EU. This is not a legal technicality: whereas you can travel between EU countries without restrictions, you are subject to limits on what you can carry across these borders and/or HAVE to declare items over those limits, and those limits are enforced (if sporadically). Commercial shipments are ALWAYS processed (because they'll be over the limits). It may not have been what you intended to ask for, but it certainly is what OP specified.

In both cases, there are customs posts on the borders. It's most obvious when driving, where you'll self-declare via a red or green lane - and stop and do some paperwork when driving a lorry (although it might be possible to pre-declare online now?). It's also obvious when travelling by air, where there are only red or green lanes in Swiss and Norwegian airports* (EU countries also have the EU lane because EU arrivals don't go through customs, and I often spot arrivals from Switzerland incorrectly going through the EU lane...).

It's least obvious on the train, and it's entirely possible you have to get off the train yourself to declare goods at the Norwegian border. But they can do the enforcement (of people who didn't declare) on the train in any case.

And this entire setup could be quite relevant for e.g. a UK/Ireland customs border (if less relevant for Eurostar).

* Norway has separate domestic arrivals without customs lanes, and Switzerland only has minimal numbers of domestic flights - which are primarily used for connections to international flights - hence forces domestic travellers through customs.
I stand corrected. My recent two trips by train across the Norway/Sweden border, at Riksgransen on the Narvik-Kiruna line, did not involve alighting from the train, any red or green channels, or any intervention by officials. However, a (scheduled) bus journey from Stockholm to Oslo did involve a diversion via a roadside customs shed, only to be waved through without examination. I guess that there is not a great smuggling trade between the two countries, at least in the quantities that can be carried by individuals on public transport?
However, on the Cross Channel route, immigration checks are likely to be the limiting factor, which is not an issue on the Norway/Sweden border.
 

route101

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Last check i recall was just before Malmo going between Denmark and Sweden, cant recall if the train was in motion while check was in place.
 

TRAX

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It’s not common but there are a few domestic custom checks on domestic SNCF trains
 

Iskra

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The only time I have experienced this was on the Italian-French border on a TGV. French customs boarded and went through the train carriage by carriage while the train was moving. Once in France we stopped at a station for twenty minutes to complete the check, disembark a passenger and then continued on. They seemed very interested in making sure every suitcase had a passenger with it. This leads me to believe drugs are potentially smuggled out of Italy into France on these trains.
 

RT4038

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Given this thread is about the situation on a 'hard' border for passengers between France (EU) and the UK, I'm not sure why exclusion (a) is relevant. Checks while the train is at the first/last station in a country can be conceptually similar to on-train-while-the-train-is-moving checks. (Providing the at-station check doesn't take so long that it adds hours to the journey - in which case it might as well be a get-off-the-train one.) I'd say a bit of extra time at a station is within the spirit and intent of the discussion, since this arose in terms of the problem of through sleepers from the UK to mainland Europe; overnight journeys are long enough that a bit of extra station dwell-time isn't a disproportionate problem.

Getting back to the question, I've had on-train checks in eastern Europe in years gone by; and in western Europe pre-Schengen/pre-EU. I'd say that UK-mainland Europe post-Brexit is analogous to intra-mainland-Europe crossings pre-EU, and the latter worked OK on board international trains. The fact that these have largely disappeared now because of Schengen etc isn't the point - the fact that when they were needed they took place on board suggests that UK-EU formalities could happen on board too if the political will was there, in situations like a sleeper to London that had been picking up at various destinations well east of Paris/Brussels, thus precluding barriers at every place someone got on.
There appears to be evidence that 'on-train, in motion' immigration checks at 'hard' borders are now not very common at all; in fact are a rarity. There are more (pre-Covid) trains crossing the English Channel in two days than there are 'on-train, in motion' checks in a week in the whole rest of the world put together!

There are plenty of examples worldwide of international trains standing in stations while immigration checks take place. I have experienced many of these, and had no need to ask for examples. I wouldn't describe them as being common, as International trains crossing 'hard' borders are not particularly common any more.
Indeed, we have (had?) our own example of this way of working with the Marseilles-London through train: passengers had their immigration status checked at Lille Europe station before the train continued through to the UK. In this case, passengers alight with their luggage for screening due to the Channel Tunnel transit regulations for passenger trains, and whilst passengers are doing that it is then sensible for the immigration checks to be performed during this process. I do not think there is any evidence that, if the luggage screening requirements were not there, the UK Authorities would refuse to perform the immigration check on-board a train standing in Lille Europe station? The Train Operator may not wish to pay for the additional cost associated with this (additional UKBA staff, platform occupancy costs) or suffer the delay as it was being carried out, as ultimately these downsides will be passed to the passengers in increased fares and less convenient service.

The immigration world of 30 years ago is not in any way comparable to that of today. Away with the misty eyed memories of inter-Rail trips in pre 1990s Europe! You might as well be saying that the steam worked railway of yesteryear is analogous to trains running now. Yes, but only vaguely - nobody would be seriously advocating a return.
(a) The Eastern flank of Europe was bordered by countries intent on keeping their populations in, and keeping all others out.
(b) There was no substantial illegal economic migrant movement from third world countries towards Europe and the UK.
(c) International immigration and asylum rules were different - permitted illegal entrants to be sent back to the country they had just come from, rather than their origin.


These, and other changes have completely altered the whole immigration landscape in the past 30 years. Yes, if there was political will to change the UK attitude towards immigration, then sure the checks could be more cursory, or even done away with completely. (The UK could join Schengen). However I can't see that happening soon. I think that the usual example from the rest of the world at 'hard' borders is a more likely scenario, which to most countries means little or no international rail service. Our system for Eurostar is already fairly advanced, and possibly unique.
 

65477

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Slightly OT, as not current, just before the Channel Tunnel opened I travelled on one of the trial Eurostar trains, which had a traveling customs/immegration office in his own compartment.

As all the passenger names had been registered they announced no checks would be made so a couple of us, who wanted a stamp in our passports had to seek out the official and request the stamp. A request that was agreed to.
 

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