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A train that fails to arrive

Hopes that a new generation of fast, reliable trains would start whisking passengers between Switzerland and Italy in December have been dashed.

Swiss railways no longer expect that the long promised new Cisalpino trains will be ready for service when the timetable changes on December 14.

It’s a matter of great annoyance for passengers, and of considerable embarrassment for the Cisalpino company.

Cisalpino is a daughter of the Swiss and Italian state railway companies, and is responsible for the passenger service between the two countries. It is has come to be symbolised by its characteristic slant-nosed tilting trains, the ETR 470.

Unfortunately what is less attractively characteristic of these striking trains is their unreliability. The toilets often don’t work, the doors get stuck, the air conditioning fails… And worst of all, they frequently arrive late.

Cisalpino is well aware of the problem, and has tried to do something about it. ETR 470s have been withdrawn from the Zurich-Milan route for the moment in order to undergo “restyling”.

Promises broken

Cisalpino has been promising for years to bring in a new generation of tilting trains, the even sharper nosed ETR 610. Back in 2004 it signed a contract worth more than €300 million (SFr463,000 million) with the rail infrastructure company Alstom for 14 of these trains.

The first of them were due to be delivered in May 2007, and they were to be brought into passenger service in the following December with Switzerland’s annual change of timetable. But technical problems delayed the deadline for a year.

In June 2008 Cisalpino announced that it was looking forward “with optimism” to the era of the ETR 610. But the optimism was misplaced: it is now clear that the train will still not be ready when the 2009 timetable comes into operation in two months’ time.

Step by step

“We do not want to name a specific date for the introduction of the ETR 610,” said Cisalpino spokesman Renzo Cicillini. Talk is now of “a step-by-step introduction of the new generation of tilting trains”.

Cicillini confirmed that under the terms of the contract, Alstom is liable to pay penalties for the late delivery. But precisely how much remains a secret.

It is no secret, however, that the situation will have an unwelcome impact on the smooth running of passenger traffic between Switzerland and Italy. The 2009 timetable scheduled seven ETR 610s to work the cross border route to and from Milan. They must now be replaced by other rolling stock.

But neither ordinary locomotives, nor the Swiss railway’s own tilting trains, can use the Italian network. As a consequence, many passengers to Italy will have to change just before they leave Switzerland in either Lugano or Brig and reckon with longer travel times.

Last stop Milan

Because the ETR 610 fleet will not be available, the existing fleet of ETR 470s will only go as far as Milan – although Swiss Railways spokesman Roland Binz stresses that this is only “for the time being”. Milan offers good connections to other Italian destinations, he says.

The Cisalpino tilting trains will no longer go on to Venice, Trieste and Florence. They will be used exclusively for the Swiss connection, since the Swiss railways are determined to keep to the principle of alternating Cisalpino and Inter City (IC) tilting trains every hour on the north-south route.

The Cisalpino company is not happy with the situation. But it wants to be certain that the ETR 610 is fully reliable for taking it into service. It is determined to avoid a fiasco like the one with the ETR 470.

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Gerhard Lob

Cisalpino was formed on November 23 1993 by the Swiss and Italian state railway companies.

Its main routes are Geneva-Brig-Milan, Basel-Bern-Lötschberg-Milan and Zurich-Gotthard-Milan.

The company’s headquarters are in Bern.

Every year it carries about 12 million passengers

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR