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Alpine freight shifts from road to rail

The railways are taking more and more freight traffic through the Alps Keystone

Switzerland has moved a step closer to reaching its goal of transferring all freight crossing the Swiss Alps from road to rail.

This content was published on March 9, 2005 - 16:06

The transport ministry said on Wednesday that the railways had increased their share of transalpine freight to 65 per cent.

While that is only a two per cent increase since 2000, the ministry pointed out that the trend in favour of the Swiss railways was unique among alpine nations.

And it is the first time since 2000 that rail has recorded a bigger increase in volume growth than the road.

The growth volume of freight using rail was up by ten per cent, compared with five per cent for road.

The number of heavy trucks using alpine passes dropped to 1,255,000 - three per cent less than in 2003 and ten per cent less than in 2000, the year in which a heavy vehicle tax and a 34-ton limit were introduced.

Load increase

The 40-ton limit which came into force at the beginning of this year explains why - despite the decrease in numbers - there has been a rise in volume.

The ultimate goal of Switzerland’s transport policy on freight crossing the Alps is to transfer it all from road to rail.

According to the ministry, the figures have already exceeded intermediate expectations of stabilising the number of heavy trucks.

It said the road haulage industry had become efficient by using more modern trucks than four years ago, which are more fuel-efficient and less polluting.

The average load of heavy goods vehicles had risen from 6.3 tonnes in 2000 to 9.6 tons last year.

Another factor influencing the shift from road to rail was the liberalisation of the railways, with rail companies competing not only against road hauliers but also against themselves, the ministry said.

"It’s a good result, but it’s not enough," said Alf Arnold, head of the non-governmental organisation, Alpine Initiative, which campaigns to remove all freight from alpine roads.

"The current measures promoting rail freight are not sufficient to move freight from the road to the rails," Arnold told swissinfo.

"We need additional means."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The law on the transfer of freight from road to rail was introduced in 2000.
It calls for a stabilisation of the number of trucks at the level of 2000 within two years of the enforcement of the bilateral agreement on transport between Switzerland and the European Union.
In 2004, there were ten per cent fewer trucks than in 2000.

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In brief

A total of 4,333 heavy trucks passed through the Alps every working day in 2004 – 299 fewer than in 2003.

Figures show that 3,328 trucks used the main transalpine route in Switzerland, the Gotthard road tunnel.

The others used the San Bernardino, Great St Bernard and Simplon tunnels.

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