Railway bosses take stock of network collapse

Diesel locomotives were deployed in some areas Keystone

The Swiss Federal Railways has apologised for Wednesday’s power outage which left thousands of passengers stranded across the country.

This content was published on June 22, 2005 - 22:28

In an interview with swissinfo, spokesman Christian Kräuchi admitted that railway bosses had no back-up plan in the event of a nationwide network collapse.

Around 200,000 people were affected by the unprecedented incident, which halted all trains operated by the Federal Railways.

Officials have confirmed that the power went down following a short-circuit in the railways’ own electricity system, triggering a "domino effect" across the network.

Kräuchi said railway officials had launched a full investigation to ensure that such a breakdown does not happen again.

swissinfo: Are you going to be paying compensation to all the passengers left stranded or stuck on board your trains?

C.K.: We’ll have to look into this, but I can’t promise anything. All I can say at this stage is that we have a policy of being open to [compensating our customers].

swissinfo: What exactly was the cause of the electrical shutdown?

C.K.: That still has to be investigated. Our first priority was to get people out of the trains stuck in tunnels and get stranded trains into the stations. The task of finding out how the power outage happened is now underway.

swissinfo: Is this the first nationwide collapse of the Federal Railways’ network?

C.K.: Yes, it is. We have had a couple of large-scale incidents in the past, but in those cases it was only the power in western Switzerland that went down. This is the first time to my knowledge that we have seen a total collapse of power across the country.

swissinfo: Does the Federal Railways have no back-up plan in the event of a power outage of this scale?

C.K.: Well, our network is 100 per cent electrified, so if we don’t have power there is nothing we can do. We have a few [spare] diesel locomotives, but you have to bear in mind that we run 9,000 trains a day and there is simply no way we can maintain a service without an electrical current. So in that sense, the answer is no - we don’t [have a back-up plan].

swissinfo: What lessons are there to be learnt from this incident?

C.K.: It’s far too early to start learning lessons. But what happened on Wednesday tells us one thing: we cannot run trains without power and we have to make sure that such a failure doesn’t happen again.

[One option we have is to maintain a back-up system] by building new power lines in Switzerland, but this is a long process because nobody wants to have additional power lines [in their backyard]. We are working on this step-by-step, but unfortunately in this case there was nothing we could do to avoid such a power outage.

swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

The Federal Railways transports about 700,000 passengers a day.
The Railways increased the number of regularly scheduled trains by 12% at the end of 2004.
The country's railway network has 5,100 kilometres of track, normal and narrow gauge.

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