Switzerland set to spend 2,5 billion francs on expanding the railways
After the Swiss government confirmed that austerity measures were likely on the horizon for public transport, it seems as though parliament has adopted a policy of selective hearing: in a vote on December 19, the Council of States approved a plan to spend 2,5 billion francs on expanding the railway network in Switzerland.
Swiss Council of States approve 2,5-billion-franc spending package
The upper house of parliament voted to expand the rail network beyond what was previously planned by federal authorities earlier this year. Along with approving the "Bahn 2050" long-term plan for Swiss railways, the chamber also approved a 2,5-billion-franc spending package to be used on upgrading the network.
The council has argued that the rail network in Switzerland has reached maximum capacity on practically all routes, especially those between Zurich and Bern, and Lausanne and Geneva. Record passenger numbers have led to overcrowding on many lines, most of which have already reached maximum capacity for the number of trains that can run without delays.
New tunnels planned for rail network in Switzerland
As part of the vote, the council approved an expansion of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel between Canton Bern and Valais to two lanes by 2035. As one of the crucial axes through the mountains, the expansion will allow for more connections between central Switzerland and the often hard-to-reach Valais region.
In addition, parliament also approved an expansion plan for the line between Lausanne and Geneva. A nine-kilometre tunnel - the most expensive of the possible expansion plans for the region - will be built between Morges and Perroy, Canton Vaud, which should allow more services to go between the two largest French-speaking Swiss cities, and provide a backup should the main line along the lake develop a fault. The tunnel should open by 2040.
Delayed Swiss rail projects revived
The Council of States has also revived several delayed rail projects as part of the new funding. These include the expansion of Zurich-Stadelhofen, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne stations and the extension of the Zimmerberg Tunnel between Zurich, Thalwil and Zug.
Under the plans, the tunnel will run for 20 kilometres instead of the 9,8 kilometres currently open. 100 million francs has also been invested in building a spur on the tunnel at Horgen to reduce journey times between Zurich and the southeastern Alps. Finally, the chamber also called for the recent reductions in services in the Romande, brought about by Swiss Federal Railways's (SBB) new timetable, to be reversed.
Swiss Federal Council fret about the finances
With this vote, the Council of States has gone against the plans of the newly elected Federal Council, who have warned that parliament’s spending plans will result in austerity measures further down the line. Back in March before the new funding was even confirmed, federal authorities predicted that the government would run a 1-billion-franc annual deficit in 2025 if nothing is done to cut spending or raise taxes.
Speaking at the Council of States on December 19, Transport Minister Albert Rösti (SVP) agreed that while the plans for new tunnels and routes were the “more suitable solution[s]” for the long term, they would “result in significant additional costs.”
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