SBB in talks with neighbouring nations in bid to reduce heavy train delays
In a statement, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) confirmed that it was in discussions with other public transport providers, in a bid to make international trains in Switzerland run more punctually. While the number of delayed trains from France and Italy was considered acceptable, officials said they were “not satisfied” with delays to services run by Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB).
Over 90 percent of SBB services on time in 2023
In its latest punctuality report, SBB confirmed that 92,5 percent of its trains were on time in 2023, equalling its performance from 2022. The company wrote that despite having to manage “20.000 construction sites for maintenance alone… 700 expansion and renovation projects” and record-breaking passenger numbers, 98,7 percent of travellers made their connections on time.
Trains ran most punctually in the eastern part of German-speaking Switzerland, with only 5,7 percent of trains in the region classified as “late” - meaning a delay of over three minutes. Services were the least punctual in the cities and cantons of French-speaking Switzerland, although even there 89,2 percent of trains were on time.
International trains pose a headache for Swiss public transport
However, Switzerland’s good scores overall were not reflected in Swiss international services and those run jointly or solely by non-Swiss providers. Chief among these is the Eurocity (EC) service from Munich to Zurich via St. Gallen, which was classified as late three-quarters of the time in 2023.
One-third of EC trains on the route were delayed over half an hour last year, with the vast majority of disruption originating in Germany. This has a chain impact on other SBB services that can find themselves stuck or stopped because of the delayed train.
SBB in talks with other companies to reduce delays
Overall, SBB told the Tages-Anzeiger that while it was happy with the international services run by French-Swiss provider SNCF, other international services need work. Specifically, they confirmed that they are in conversation with Italian, Austrian and German providers, in a bid to reduce delays to trains in Switzerland.
First, SBB said that while disruption caused by Italian trains was at “an acceptable level”, delays to services between Milan, Geneva and Basel via Brig were on the rise. Therefore, they said that they are “working on improvements together with their Italian partners”: SBB is specifically asking that these trains depart earlier from Milan so that there is more room in the timetable for delays.
Then, SBB said it is “not satisfied” with delays produced by Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB) trains, adding that they were in secret discussions with the company regarding how to improve punctuality. For their part, an ÖBB spokesperson told the Tages-Anzeiger that the Vienna to Zurich line was “embedded in a tight schedule in terms of timetables and cannot be relaxed in terms of travel times”, making it harder for changes to be made.
SBB debates removing Eurocity from Swiss timetables
Finally, SBB admitted that Deutsche Bahn (DB) trains in Switzerland are delayed far too frequently. Efforts made in the summer of 2022 and early 2023 - when SBB cut the number of DB services able to go through Switzerland - have not been successful.
Therefore, the company told the Tages-Anzeiger that it was looking to go one step further. Specifically, SBB is looking to remove the Eurocity service between Munich and Zurich from the timetable in Switzerland. This means that on trains from Munich to Zurich, passengers in St. Gallen would be unable to use the EC to get to Zurich, as stops in the alpine nation would technically be “alighting stops” only - in the opposite direction, the service should run as normal.
SBB is also adjusting the maximum waiting times for EC services in Switzerland in order to give them more of a chance of completing the route without being cancelled. They also advised Swiss passengers to avoid using the Eurocity to get to destinations on the route (Winterthur, Zurich Airport and Zurich HB) and instead use SBB Intercity or Interregional trains.
SBB talks praised by striking German transport union
Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, the Federal Office for Transport said that it supported SBB’s approach. Transport Minister Albert Rösti (SVP) explained to reporters last week that “the imported delays have to do with failures in certain countries that have neglected their rail infrastructure for at least a decade.” “Travellers in Switzerland must be able to rely on a certain level of punctuality,” added SVP Councillor of State Esther Friedli.
In fact, the talks held by SBB have won an unlikely ally: speaking to reporters, the leader of the recently striking German Train Drivers' Union (GDL) Claus Weselsky said that SBB was taking the action, "Because our trains are destroying their punctuality system.” “I think it's great that a country is taking a clear stance here and saying: “We won't let unpunctuality wash into our system”” he added.
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