Swiss Federal Railways hopes to turn around the slump in its cargo division with the next stage of its new European standard signalling system.
Since Saturday, trains on the 45-kilometre stretch between Mattstetten and Rothrist are able to travel at up to 200kmph using the Level 2 version of the European Train Control System (ETCS).
The test route covers most of the distance between Bern and Olten. And Federal Railways plans to unveil ETCS throughout the country by 2015 with Level 2 installed at key points along the rail corridor that connects Italy and Germany.
Hansjörg Hess, head of Federal Railways infrastructure, told swissinfo that having a signalling system that integrates with other European countries will make rail travel more efficient and attractive to companies needing to ship freight.
"I believe this will stimulate the transport of more freight on the railways. A lot of freight and passenger trains pass through Switzerland between Germany and Italy," he said.
"It is very cost effective to have only one train control system on board rather than the seven we need at the moment to operate between Germany and Italy.
"Train operators have to be competitive. If we have to install seven different systems on our locomotives it costs SFr1 million ($786,000), but with ETCS it will cost around SFr250,000."
In the red
Federal Railways' cargo division ended the year 2005 deep in the red, weighing down the financial results of the entire company. A key cornerstone of Switzerland's transport policy is to move freight off the roads and onto trains for ecological reasons.
Switzerland carried out pioneering tests of ETCS in 2003 before it was fitted to the Mattstetten-Rothrist stretch a year later. By December this year 240 trains per day will be utilising ETCS Level 2 on the route.
At first Federal Railways will only trial a small number of trains at full speed, but plans to do away with the 160kmph limit completely by the end of 2007.
The revolutionary system relays message from track sensors straight to the driver's cab, doing away with the need for traditional signals and giving the driver more time to react.
ETCS Level 1, or limited supervision level, also employs traditional signalling at key junctions as a safety precaution that limits speeds to 160kmph. Level 2 allows full, uninterrupted use of the European system, thus increasing speeds.
ETCS Level 2 will also be introduced to the Lötschberg-Basistunnel, a key rail gateway to Italy, by the end of next year.
Despite some teething troubles during the testing phase, Hess is confident that the entire Swiss rail network will be fitted with ETCS (mainly Level 1) within the set time frame.
"Not every problem is solved but we have come some way to solve them. We are convinced we can roll out our strategy and introduce ETCS throughout Switzerland by end of 2015," he said.
On March 3 the transport ministers of Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands signed a declaration to open a new high-speed rail link between Rotterdam and Genoa by 2012.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen
ETCS will be rolled out throughout the European Union to coordinate signalling and safety systems. By the end of next year 3,000km of rail network in ten countries will be fitted with ETCS. In the next 12-15 years the system will cover 20,000km of track.
Federal Railways posted a SFr166.3-million loss in 2005. Its cargo division will be shaken up after racking up a big deficit. The organisation partially blamed the opening of Switzerland's roads last year to trucks weighing up to 40 tons.
468 locomotives have been fitted with ETCS Level 2 technology for the Mattstetten-Rothrist route. 2,600 test journeys have put the system though its paces.
SFr610 million has been invested on converting both tracks and trains to ETCS in Switzerland.
Federal Railways operates 3,000 kilometres of track transporting 253 million passengers and 58 million tons of freight.