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Local stations get new modular look

The protoype of the modular station building (Federal Railways)

Switzerland's Federal Railways is hoping to bring a unified and contemporary look to its regional stations with a modular upgrade and replacement programme.

But the ambitious renovation plan has suffered delays and won't be finished before 2015, a decade behind the original schedule.

The modular system includes a concrete roof, red and blue walls, glass and steel waiting rooms, bike racks, seating and rubbish bins.

The idea is that travellers should be able to find their way around any local station in Switzerland.

Bern architects Gauer Iten Messerli won the project to develop the modular design, which is supposed to adapt to its environment.

"Each new station is unique despite the use of modules, and architecturally a part of its surroundings," said the railways project leader, Dieter Baumann.

Station layout has also been streamlined, with only basic facilities. Passengers are supposed to find it easier to move around and distances between trains, buses and private vehicles are cut to a minimum.

Details

Attention has also been paid to the details. Clocks, information boards and even the rubbish bins all have the same format, completing the visual identity.

The project management team is particularly proud of its waste-paper basket design, drawn up by Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein.

"The city of Bern has made it its official rubbish bin," said Baumann. "You can also find it in eastern Europe and the Middle East."

The highlight of the project is a so-called light column known as a "Railbeam". Eight metres high, it has been designed to be visible from a distance.

But there have been complaints about this lighting. Dark Sky, an association that is trying to reduce light pollution, criticised the set-up used for the columns, forcing the railways to modify them.

"We have optimised the columns," Baumann told swissinfo. "We tested different set-ups in a Berlin laboratory before modifying the reflectors and lights."

The light produced by the Railbeams has been cut by less than seven per cent to answer the criticism levelled at them. Power consumption has also been reduced by half.

Security

Complaints about the columns haven't been the only problems faced by the railways. Budget cutbacks have also forced those in charge of the project to rethink their original plans.

Originally called "Rendez-vous05", the project aimed to upgrade over 600 stations by the end of 2005. A prototype was built in Löwenberg, not far from Bern, and was tested by many travellers heading to and from Switzerland's 2002 national exhibition.

The project has since been renamed "Facelifting stations" and is likely to be completed by 2015. By the end of last year, 160 stations had been renovated.

With its revamp of local stations, the traditional pit stop for people with full bladders is to become a thing of the past.

"Because of security concerns and to avoid vandalism, we have already decided to close toilet facilities at small stations," said Baumann. "We won't be building any new ones."

Toilets will still be available to travellers inside regional trains. Railway officials are also hoping that by closing such facilities at stations, and improving lighting and layout, passengers should feel more secure while waiting for trains.

Bulldozers

Most of the planned renovations have so far not been opposed.

"If there is a problem, we try to come up with a solution that will satisfy everybody," said Toni Häfliger, who deals with monument protection for the railways. "We also try to figure out what must be protected."

If the experts say a building must be preserved, it is renovated and extended if necessary. But if it is not worthy of protection, the bulldozers move in.

"Most old stations were built along the same lines and have reached the end of their useful life after 100 years of service," said Baumman. "Many of them are also cheap wooden buildings."

swissinfo, Andreas Keiser

In brief

The Swiss Federal Railways wants to renovate and upgrade 620 regional stations by 2015.

The company plans to invest SFr340 million ($275 million) in the project.

Around 40,000 square metres of platforms will be built, while 25,000 square metres of subways will be renovated.

1,000 new rubbish bins and seats will be installed.

Bike racks for 20,000 bicycles are also included in the project.

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