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Alpine Initiative demands more rail transport

Environmentalists hand in a weighty reminder of the government's responsibilities Keystone

A leading Swiss environmental group has called on the government to speed up the transfer of freight transport from the country’s roads to the railways.

The Alpine Initiative says the authorities have failed so far to fulfil the mandate given by voters over ten years ago.

The group said on Thursday that the government’s transport policy lacked courage and that the authorities needed to strive more to move transalpine freight transport off road and onto rail.

“We have only just begun to get goods off the road,” said the group’s president, Fabio Pedrina.

Pedrina added that more than a decade after the Swiss had voted to protect the Alps from heavy transit traffic, the government had been slow to respond to this decision and had not yet fulfilled its constitutional duties.

“The authorities asked for another five years to fulfil the criteria set out in a nationwide vote,” he said. “We demand that they keep their side of the bargain.”


The group said that by letting parliament set the pace of the transfer from the road to the railways, the government had shirked its responsibilities.

It reckons that Switzerland has nothing to lose though by pursuing its constitutional goal.

“Switzerland isn’t alone for long when it dares to show the way to others, as it did with the heavy goods vehicle tax,” added Pedrina.

The group said countries like Germany and Austria had followed Switzerland’s lead, introducing tolls for lorries on their motorways. Britain was considering a mileage-based heavy vehicle tax like the Swiss, the Lorry Road-User Charge.

“Switzerland’s heavy goods vehicle tax is seen more and more as an example for sustainable transport policy in Europe,” said Markus Liechti of the European Transport and Environment Federation.


The lorry tax is just one of a series of measures introduced by the Swiss to fulfil the criteria set out in the 1994 vote.

The others are the modernisation of the country’s railway infrastructure, the reform of how the railways are managed, and a land transport agreement with the European Union as well as a variety of intermediary measures to encourage the use of rail transport.

The environmental group warned, however, that the heavy goods vehicle tax was still a long way off from meeting its targets. While it had become more expensive to ship freight by road through the Alps, the arrival of 40-ton trucks had cancelled out the increased cost of transport.

“There are fewer trucks on the road,” said Pedrina, “but there has been an increase in the amount of merchandise transiting through the Alps.”

Nearly 1.2 million lorries cross the mountains each year; by 2009, only 650,000 should be making the trip.

“We will never reach this target if new measures aren’t introduced,” added Pedrina.

At the beginning of the year, the heavy goods vehicle tax was increased by around 50 per cent. The federal authorities said at the time that extra costs involved for transporters would be largely offset by the arrival of 40-ton trucks for Swiss companies.

swissinfo with agencies

The people’s initiative “for the protection of the alpine regions from transit traffic” was handed in in 1990 with 107,570 signatures.

The environmental group, Alpine Initiative, is calling for freight to be transferred from road to rail as well as a stop to new roads being built in the Alps.

The initiative was accepted in 1994 by 51.9% of voters.

It was subsequently enshrined in the Swiss constitution.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR