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Road-to-rail policy to miss goals

More trucks are transported by train through the Alps, but not enough yet to meet Swiss targets Keystone

The government says the country’s targets for a substantial reduction in the number of heavy trucks crossing the Alps will not be reached.

In a statement on Friday, the cabinet said there would be 250,000 more trucks this year than the goal of 1 million, and that the target of a maximum of 650,000 trucks by 2018 was unrealistic.

Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1994 introducing the 650,000 limit. It was to have come into force in 2009 and was later postponed to 2018 – two years after the opening of the Gotthard Base rail tunnel.

At the time of the vote, the Swiss rallied around inhabitants of alpine valleys who considered trucks a major risk to the environment and their health, since harmful emissions are trapped by the valley walls.

One aim of building the tunnel along with the other major transalpine rail link, the Lötschberg tunnel – which opened in 2007 – was to transfer freight from road to rail in order to achieve the targets.

In its statement, the government said however that if it had not been for the opening of the Lötschberg, increased fees for transalpine vehicles and the liberalisation of rail freight, there would be 600,000 more trucks crossing the Alps each year than there are today.

No hefty hike

It added that additional measures will be needed to improve the attractiveness of rail, but only a hefty hike in truck fees – which agreements with the European Union do not allow – would enable Switzerland to achieve its 2018 target.

In a first reaction, Alpine Initiative, the lobby group behind the road-to-rail initiative, said it was “disappointed” with the government’s report, calling on Switzerland to enter serious negotiations with the EU to introduce quotas on transalpine freight.

Alpine Initiative believes this kind of system, known as the Alpine Crossing Exchange mechanism, would enable Switzerland to meet its targets.

“The government is aware of the medicine needed to cure the transit madness on our roads, but it doesn’t want to use it,” said Fabio Pedrina, Alpine Initiative president.

Quota system

The cabinet did emphasise in its report that the Alpine Crossing Exchange was the only other way – besides increasing fees significantly – to achieve Switzerland’s targets. However, neither approach had found favour in Brussels, it added.

For its part, Astag, Switzerland’s road hauliers’ association, said the government report was recognition that the country’s policy of transferring goods from road to rail has been a failure.

“Despite compulsory measures by the state, which have made road transport unilaterally and massively more expensive, in most cases rail is not competitive,” Astag said on its website.

It said Switzerland’s policy of transferring freight from road to rail had “failed conclusively”.

Astag wants to see a speedy change of policy away from state-imposed restrictions on road freight, towards “genuine cooperation” between the different freight carriers.

The next step for the government will be to propose a plan next year on how it can tap the full potential of the system of levies on heavy goods vehicles.

The agreement with the EU foresees a maximum fee of SFr325 ($347) for a journey from Basel – on Switzerland’s northwestern border with Germany and France  – to Chiasso on the southeastern border with Italy. The price is currently only SFr288.

In 2010, there was an increase in both road and rail freight transported across the country, with rail taking 64.1 per cent of the total as opposed to 62.6 per cent the previous year.

Swiss transport policy calls for most goods transport to be taken off the road and put on trains.


The number of trucks transiting Switzerland is supposed to drop to 650,000 by 2018-2019 (one million in 2011).


In 2009 parliament decided to delay the initial target date of 2009 by ten years.


Currently about 1.25 million trucks per year pass through the Swiss Alps.

The Gotthard is on the main north-south artery through Switzerland. There are two other routes: through the Lötschberg-Simplon tunnels in the west of the country as well as the San Bernardino in eastern Switzerland

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR