In the 1980s, rail corridors through the Swiss Alps were running near capacity, and traffic connections in the densely populated Swiss Midlands touched at their limits. Soon, Swiss roads became more congested, forcing the government to come up with a solution. Bahn 2000 is an attempt to alleviate existing congestion and provide extra capacity for future growth.
Switzerland’s rail network is undergoing major infrastructure and rolling stock improvements. The first phase, completed in December 2004, saw the new 45km (28-mile) Mattstetten-Rothrist line cut the travel time between Bern and Zurich by 15 minutes.
This means a similar saving from Geneva and Lausanne. Service frequencies are being increased to half-hourly, with 44 new tilting trains from a consortium comprising Adtranz, Fiat-SIG and Schindler Waggon.
Swiss people, who make an average of 40 train trips per year compared with just 21 in Germany, 14 in France and eight in Italy, voted for this major programme of improvements in a referendum in 1987, and another for new Transalpine rail routes in 1992. Bahn 2000 aims to offer at least half-hourly frequencies on major routes, a 15% cut in journey times between major cities, new trains and improved station facilities. The Swiss also voted for two-thirds of the project’s CHF30.5 billion (€19.8 billion) cost to be raised from increased lorry and petrol taxes.
Aspirations were frustrated when SBB halted the project in Autumn 1995. Unanticipated environmental costs, and the obligation to respect regional interests and wishes, meant that the project was in jeopardy, both in terms of costs and timescale. A second attempt to move it forward proved more successful. Five bidders came forward with expressions of interest, from which the winning consortium was chosen.
Thanks to better signalling, train headways on very busy lines could be cut down from 3 to 2 minutes, boosting line capacity by 30%. Tilting train technology and double-decker trains offer higher speeds and about one third more seating capacity than conventional carriages, making platform extensions and station remodelling unnecessary.
In 1997, the first big project of Rail 2000 was ready for revenue operation: the station of Aarau with a new city tunnel and quadrupling of the line to Rupperswil. It allowed the introduction of an integral half-hour regular interval service between Bern-Zurich, Bern-Fribourg and Zurich-St. Gallen. In western Switzerland, half-hourly services began from Lausanne to Sion.
A major new project is the provision of a 45km direct route between Rothrist and Mattstetten, which from December 2004 brings Zurich-Bern journey times down from 72 minutes to 56, with trains planned to run at 200km/h on this line.
Routes into Luzern were improved in 1999, allowing a half-hourly service to be introduced to and from Zurich Airport, and the reintroduction of direct Geneve-Luzern trains.
CHF1.3bn is being spent on capacity improvements around Zurich (Switzerland’s busiest rail station with 1,400 daily trains and 340,000 customers) to increase the number of trains using it by 40%.
A new flyover to eliminate the need for Basel-Chur trains to cross the paths of all other trains is due for completion in 2005, along with additional tracks and platform extensions. After ten years, around 20 other major and minor construction projects in the area are nearing completion.
In 1999, the widening of the Gütsch tunnel for double-decker trains eliminated the Lucerne bottleneck and after extensive work in western Switzerland, 2003 also saw the opening of 10km (6 miles) in tunnel between Zurich and Thalwil to take the strain off the lakeshore line.
SBB has invested CHF2.3bn (€1.54bn) in new rolling stock. The basic fleet is composed of a Bahn 2000 Re460 locomotive, operating with standard passenger cars and driving trailers in push-pull mode.
On lines with a high demand for seats, IC2000 double-decker trains are used, which have a seating capacity of up to 1,400 passengers. By the end of 2004, 340 such trains were in service.
Tilting trains were the preferred option to increase speeds on Switzerland’s winding, undulating rail routes. The chosen rolling stock design is a streamlined seven-car unit, seating 463 passengers, and with a top design speed of 200km/h (125mph). Power is supplied at 15kV, and 44 of these seven-coach trains were due to be in service by the end of 2004.
Signalling and communications
Originally, SBB planned to use European Train Control System (ECTS) from the start, but teething troubles on a pilot scheme between Olten and Lucerne meant that conventional systems have been introduced to provide a fallback solution.
It is felt that the risk of introducing new, untried technology across the network was too great. SBB still plans to introduce moving block systems, but this will not be in the immediate future.
Across the whole of Switzerland, 40 new signal boxes were due to be commissioned by December 2004, presenting a major challenge for suppliers.
SBB regards future development as essential: it forecasts a 20% growth in rail traffic by 2020.
There are plans for better international connection via new shortened and higher-capacity Transalpine rail routes using tunnels at Gotthard (57km, 2012) and Lötschberg (35km, 2008). Travel times between Basel and Milan will be 3 hours 45 minutes, 90 minutes less than today.
Despite having a number of private rail companies, decisions on major investment are decided by Parliament. Key ambitions are to strengthen north-south and east-west links, carry more freight, and connect to the Europe-wide high-speed network.