Switzerland's SBB under fire after late trains skip stations to make up time

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Switzerland's SBB under fire after late trains skip stations to make up time
The Swiss Federal Office of Transport says the SBB could be violating its operational obligations. Photo: AFP

It has been a tough summer for Swiss federal railways operator SBB. During the recent heatwave, bent railway tracks caused major delays while customers vented their frustration over defective or ineffective air conditioning on trains.


Now the SBB has also come under fire for a practice which sees trains skip stations altogether at short notice to minimize delays to late services.

Attention was drawn to the controversial practice after Switzerland’s CH media group reported on the plight of passengers on a train from Bern to Zurich last Saturday.

Read also: Switzerland unveils plans for refunds for late and cancelled trains

Because the train was running late, travellers were informed that it would no longer be stopping at the stations of Brugg and Baden. Instead, passengers who wanted to go to those destinations would have to get out in Olten and wait for a connecting service.

The SBB justified the decision by saying it wanted to avoid a domino effect of late trains on the network and argued that it was about protecting the interests of the majority.

In other words, to avoid delays for a large number of passengers, a small group experienced an even bigger delay.

Read also: Passengers forced off jam-packed Zurich-bound train over safety concerns

Now the Federal Office of Transport (FOT) has stepped in with a spokesperson saying under transport law, the SBB “is obliged to operate all services in the timetable”. Passengers should be able to count on being transported from A to B as specified in that timetable.

The transport office spokesperson told regional daily Aaargauer Zeitung that if media reports were correct, the SBB could have been in breach of its operational obligations.

There are few exceptions to the rules about stopping at all stations. This practice is permitted, for example, in cases where weather conditions limit access to a station. But the FOT will now have to look at whether skipping stations to avoid delays is a legitimate reason for going off timetable.

There is money at stake here too. Currently customers on Swiss trains cannot claim compensation for late trains, but they can do so if the SBB has failed to meet its operating obligations.

The current dispute also has future ramifications. The Swiss government has just started consultations on new plans that would see passengers refunded if trains are seriously delayed.

If the legal status of the practice of skipping stations to avoid delays is not cleared up, there will, in future, be even more incentive for the SBB to do so as it would ensure that as few people as possible experience delays thus keeping refund costs down.

Read also: SBB makes it easier to buy cheap international train tickets


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