SBB plans to reduce delays - by slowing down trains

SBB plans to reduce delays - by slowing down trains

The recent rail disruption in the line between Geneva and Lausanne has highlighted the issues Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) faces with delays and disruption. Now, with passenger demand rising, the company is looking to slow trains down so that public transport in Switzerland will remain on time.

SBB services continue to run late in Swiss cities

Despite being known as a highly efficient rail network, SBB has struggled to keep up with its targets for train delays. For the last 13 weeks, around 32,5 percent of trains between Basel and Zurich were delayed for longer than three minutes. Overall punctuality, or the percentage of trains delayed less than three minutes across all lines, stood at 71 percent. SBB’s target is 94 percent.

According to David Fattebert, head of the punctuality programme at SBB, the majority of delays are caused by the weather, doors failing to close, or faults with overhead lines. “We will never be 100 percent free of errors,” noted Fattebert but said SBB needed to improve its “level of robustness.”

Slower trains used to ease congestion on popular commuter lines

In many of the most popular rail routes, Fattebert said, “If a train is 60 seconds late, it has no more room for error. On a route with a train every 90 seconds, this has an immediate impact on the entire rail system.” In the case of last weekend, where the mainline between Geneva and Lausanne was taken out due to a break in the line, the knock-on effects were dramatic.

To improve the punctuality of the rail network, SBB has started to slow down the speed of train services, to give them more time should they become delayed. This has already started in Bern in December 2020, when the Intercity train left for Zurich a minute earlier than usual, but still arrived at the same time. This caused protests among workers as the train did not connect well with other commuter services.

Speaking to Watson, Fattebert presented his own plan to reduce delays. Over the next few years, you may see a different timetable for weekends and holidays, more stops on Interregional trains, have services using the same line spaced out by 15 minutes, higher speeds, and a greater number of connections with regional trains. Concluding the interview, Fattebert noted that, to SBB, “After safety, punctuality is the most important key figure. That is hopefully clear to everyone.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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