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New railway timetable stays on track

Travellers spent a lot of time studying the new timetable on Sunday Keystone

The Swiss Federal Railways’ new timetable, the biggest revamp in recent times, has gone into service without a hitch and with only a few late trains.

The company warned, however, that the real test would come on Monday and Tuesday, when commuters headed to work and freight traffic picked up.

The first train pulled out of Bern station on Sunday shortly after 4am, carrying around 250 railway buffs and night owls.

Benedikt Weibel, head of the Federal Railways, said he was relieved that the launch of new timetable, part of the Rail 2000 programme, had gone ahead smoothly. “It was a good day,” he added.

Around 90 per cent of train departure times have been modified.

Hundreds of railway employees were standing by to deal with any problems that might have cropped up. However, they were left with little to do.

Weibel warned that the railways faced a bigger challenge on Monday, when commuters headed to work, and on Tuesday, when freight traffic picked up.

Potential problems

The Federal Railways expects some problems on regional lines where there is only one track. Commuters will also have less time to switch trains at some stations.

Some trains were late on Sunday morning, but the Federal Railways said the delays were not related to the introduction of the new timetable.

Weibel noted that there were around 100 incidents every day on the rail network.

“Most of them are caused by external factors or happen because of infrastructure problems,” he added.

According to Weibel, the likelihood of an incident happening has increased in tandem with the number of trains running on the network.

Weibel says his biggest fear is a breakdown of the company’s showcase stretch of track between Mattstetten, north of Bern, and Rothrist near Olten. Trains run at speeds of up to 160kmh on this 45-kilometre section.

There was a breakdown of the signal system in this sector on Sunday afternoon, forcing one train to head down the old tracks, delaying it ten minutes.

Regional improvements

Many Swiss caught a train on Sunday to test the new timetable. But not all were satisfied with the changes.

Ticket prices have gone up nearly four per cent on average to cover the costs of running more trains, while some regions are actually worse off.

Ceremonies marked the launch of new national timetable on Saturday in central Switzerland, just hours before it became effective.

Cantons Glarus, Lucerne and Zug were among the first to benefit from the revamping of the railways’ operations.

Swiss president Joseph Deiss inaugurated the new Glarus Sprinter with Weibel on Saturday. The new express train will link the canton with Zurich.

Glarus is the last cantonal capital to benefit from a high-speed connection to the rest of the country, a hurdle the local authorities have been trying to overcome for years.

The railways have also upgraded their services around Lucerne and Zug. Regional trains are to run more frequently, putting the suburbs and outlying areas within easier reach.

On Sunday officials also inaugurated Switzerland’s longest regional express line, which now runs for 150km from Olten to Porrentruy in canton Jura via Basel.

swissinfo with agencies

As of Sunday, there are 12% more trains running on the rail network.
Travelling times on more than half long-distance journeys have been reduced by at least five minutes.
35% of these journeys have seen their running times reduced by at least 15 minutes.
Total investment in Rail 2000 amounts to SFr5.9 billion ($4.93 billion).

Swiss transport policy aims to transfer freight traffic off the roads and motorways onto the railways.

Apart from the construction of two new alpine base tunnels, a package of improvements includes connection to the European high-speed network and the Rail 2000 concept.

Public transport companies in Switzerland move about 1.7 billion people annually.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR