Terrible-smelling Swiss trains and platforms will remain until 2023, SBB reveals

Terrible-smelling Swiss trains and platforms will remain until 2023, SBB reveals

In bad news for workers and travellers using public transport, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has confirmed that the foul smell on trains and in stations in Switzerland will remain until at least the end of the year. The faecal-like smell is so bad that elements of the government have demanded swifter action.

Why do Swiss trains and platforms smell so bad?

Since the summer - particularly at inter-city stations like those in Zurich, Geneva and Bern - passengers have been greeted with a horrible smell. The phenomenon, first detected on platforms 33 to 36 in Zurich, has now spread to stations and rail cars across the country.

The smell, according to SBB, can be blamed on the new “FV-Dosto” double-decker trains, which are currently used on a large number of Intercity (IC) and Interregional (IR) services. Instead of dumping refuse onto the open track, the trains use a system where refuse is collected, solids are separated and the wastewater is treated onboard using live bacteria.

Unfortunately, while this did work well earlier in the year when passenger numbers were low, an influx of new travellers has “overloaded” the bacteria. This means that in the toilets themselves, and when the train disposes of the water in stations, it still has the smell of human refuse and coats the platform and train with the odour. 

Faecal-like smell will be fixed by the end of 2022 at the earliest

Despite attempts by SBB to solve the problem, the issue persists to this day, with Swiss satirist Viktor Giacobbo remarking, “With FV-Dosto trains you always have to make the hard decision: the upper floor with stronger shaking or lower floor with the stronger WC smell.”

“Part of the bioreactors still have insufficient biological activity, which can lead to the formation of odours,” SBB spokesperson Martin Meier told Blick. He confirmed that the excrement smell on platforms and trains - especially the FV-Dosto and the RER trains used in Geneva - will remain until the end of the year, at least.

He explained that in order for the system to work again, new bacteria have to be introduced to help reinforce the system, and the current bacteria need to be given more of a rest. "To do this, we must remove cars from operation while leaving enough cars available," Meier noted. He apologised for the inconvenience and said the problem will be resolved as soon as possible.

Politicians in Bern demand action over bad smell on SBB

The problem of poor-smelling trains has now also made its way into the halls of power. Speaking to Blick, Green National Councillor Marionna Schlatter called on the government to intervene, noting “we must ensure that public transport is attractive. This implies that one is not inconvenienced by such odours.”

In response, National Councillor Martin Candinas asserted that “such a thing is clearly not politics! It is unacceptable for politicians to debate toilets.” “This is the responsibility of SBB,” he concluded.

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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