Wanted: SBB looking for ideas to make Swiss trains between cities faster
According to SRF, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is looking for ways to shorten journey times between major Swiss cities, after its tilting-train technology proved error-prone and unsustainable. Some of the ideas on the table include more non-stop routes, services waiting for late trains and Japanese-style platform designs.
Travel time between Swiss cities must be reduced by 2035
In 2019, the Swiss government approved 12,89 billion Swiss francs worth of extra funding for public transport. The money will be used to eliminate "bottlenecks" that are appearing across the network, and to make sure that each major Swiss city is within one hour’s train ride of the next nearest one by 2035.
This poses a problem, as the route from St. Gallen to Zurich takes 58 minutes at its shortest, with most trains taking over an hour to complete the route. The same problem exists between Lausanne and Bern, where the slow, curving track means that trains take one hour and 13 minutes to reach the capitals of Canton Bern and Vaud.
New tilting trains in Switzerland proved unreliable
Sadly, SBB’s first solution, the FV Dosto tilting train, has not been as much of a revelation as hoped. According to the company, while the train itself works fine, the tilting function - which would have allowed it to go faster on the curvacious parts of each rail route - is “error-prone” and “unsustainable,” meaning faster journey times cannot be fulfilled.
To help, parliament has asked experts - and in theory the general public - for possible ideas for how trains can be made to go faster, ideally without multi-billion franc high-speed rail projects, which were shelved in SBB’s latest long-term plan.
Delayed trains and billion franc projects to make rail services faster
Ueli Stückelberger, Director of the Association of Public Transport, said that travel times in Switzerland can be improved overall if regional trains and S-Bahns were to wait for inter-city services if they do not arrive on time. He also called for more “through trains,” where services only stop in major cities like Geneva and Basel, citing the lack of stops and relative speed of trains between Zurich and Munich as a good example of the theory in action.
Others are even bolder, with Patrick Ruggli, Head of Public Transport in Canton St. Gallen, telling SRF that the line between St. Gallen and Zurich is too curvacious and needs to be "straightened." For example, he said that the line between Winterthur and Aadorf could be straightened at a cost of 1,1 billion Swiss francs - although this would only save one and a half minutes of travel time and require a five-kilometre-long tunnel.
Railway experts calls for Swiss public transport to be even more efficient
Finally, railway expert Markus Barth’s solution is to make Swiss public transport - already one of the most efficient rail networks in the world - even more efficient. He claimed that the alpine nation could save minutes of travel time by “optimising timetables, routes and rolling stock.” In practice, according to SRF, this would mean trains stopping with pinpoint accuracy and passengers waiting on the platform in marked “boarding areas,” as they do in Japan.
All those looking to submit a plan have until mid-October, when the consultation period ends. The Federal Council will then act on the proposals in 2026.