Switzerland is hailing a new transport accord with Germany, the Netherlands and Italy as a key step forward in its bid to move transalpine trucks off the road and on to rail.This content was published on January 9, 2003 - 18:57
The deal signed in Lugano aims to ease customs formalities, administrative rules and provide coordinated timetables.
The "Memorandum of Understanding" foresees a railway corridor, which will extend from the Dutch port of Rotterdam to northern Italy.
Most of Europe's north-south traffic passes through Switzerland and the country sees more than 5,000 trucks journey through its Alpine passes each day.
The deal would help the government meet a 2006 deadline to cut the number of heavy goods vehicles on Swiss roads by half.
"It is certainly a step towards our goal... to reduce road cargo from 1.4 million lorries a year to 650,000," Martina Buol, a policy advisor to the Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, told swissinfo.
The Lugano accord will improve what is currently a dire situation where congestion sees mountain roads regularly transformed into giant parking lots, said Beat Keiser, spokesman for Switzerland's Road Transport Association.
But he warned that coordination on the international level had to improve to ensure the accord actually worked in practice.
"We haven't had such a good experience so far, because there have been collaboration problems between the Swiss Federal Railways and those of other countries," Keiser told swissinfo.
"But if they now come closer to a point that improves cooperation, then we are in favour of such a system."
The Swiss Alpine Initiative also welcomed the deal. However, its director, Alf Arnold, told swissinfo that while it was a "step in the right direction", the accord did not go far enough to alleviate the traffic burden on Switzerland's roads, which is set to increase in the coming years.
Switzerland is currently constructing a second railway tunnel through the Lötschberg, which will eventually link the Bernese Oberland with the Valais.
The new tunnel should be able to transport one million lorry units of transit goods by rail annually when it starts operating around 2007.
The government is also constructing a base tunnel at the Gotthard, one of the most congested points on the north-south route and also the scene of a fire - caused by a transitting truck - which killed 11 people in October 2001.
swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin