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Here’s how Swiss rail is planning to tackle late services

Amid increasing delays, the Swiss Federal Rail Authority (SBB) have developed a set of strategies to overcome a ‘self-inflicted problem’.

Here’s how Swiss rail is planning to tackle late services

Residents and visitors to Switzerland are quick to discover that the stereotype of Swiss punctuality is just that, a stereotype – particularly when it comes to local and federal rail services. 

Up to 300,000 passengers arrive late each day across Switzerland – with higher lateness in regional areas – a far cry from the country which built its reputation on neutrality and accurate timepieces. 

In response to increasing criticism amid an apparent inability to deal with growing passenger numbers, the SBB has developed a strategy to minimise delays. The changes have been put together by a team of experts in long-distance rail travel. 


While some of the solutions seem a little unorthodox, passengers will at least be pleased that the informal policy of skipping ‘less important stations’ when a train is delayed will be abandoned. 

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

The SBB have however said that many of the problems were self inflicted, due to failures to adequately plan for growing demand, alongside structural and design problems in the existing network. 

SBB CEO Andreas Meyer told the media “there is no quick fix for improving punctuality in sight”. 

Supply and demand

The SBB has already begun rolling out additional services, although it has indicated that increased demand is unlikely to be properly met until 2021. 

One of the major reasons for the increasing delays is simply the growing demand for long-distance rail services across Switzerland. 

Usage increased by seven percent on the previous year in 2019, while the imposition of additional taxes on domestic flights is likely to place further strain on the network. 

These issues have been compounded by delays in delivery of the FV Dosto Bombardier, a double decker train which can carry far more passengers.

These trains were ordered several years ago to account for increasing demand – but have not yet been finished. 


Flexible departures

In public transport infrastructure – as with other forms of traffic – lateness is cyclical, leading to more and more lateness. Under the current system, where one train is late, it may keep others back – crippling the punctuality of the system as a whole. 

Flexible departure times will allow trains to leave stations when they are ready. 

The SBB’s new directive is to no longer require that the train scheduled to leave a station earlier be required to leave first – meaning that later trains which are more punctual will not be subject to forced delays. 

Changes to passenger guidance

The current information provided to passengers by the SBB has been poorly developed, putting strain on particular connecting points and leading to system-wide delays. 

Part of this has been due to the practice of advising passengers to change trains at main stations, rather than smaller ones where platforms are easier to navigate. 

Where a passenger needs to change their train as part of a connection, new passenger guidance will encourage them to do so where their connecting train leaves from the same platform – rather than at overcrowded main stations.  

One such change is to advise passengers to change at Zurich airport rather than the HBF (Central Station), where the transfer time is shorter. 

Increasing staff numbers and improving organisation

While taking on more staff has been part of the strategy to cater to increasing demand, another issue has been planning for peak times. 

As it currently stands, too few back-up staff have been available on peak days – further exacerbating the impact of delays. 

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Rail services to remain disrupted in Switzerland in the coming days

Snow and sub-zero temperatures over the weekend caused havoc on some train lines, mainly in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Rail services to remain disrupted in Switzerland in the coming days
Snow has slowed down train traffic in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

Freezing temperatures cut off the power on some lines, disrupting train traffic in several regions.

Internationally, traffic between St. Margrethen in St.Gallen and Munich was interrupted due to heavy snowfall. EuroCity trains between Zurich and Munich were canceled.

Before it resumes normal service, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) must clear a thick layer of snow from trains and remove fallen trees from tracks, the company said on its website.

The train between Basel and Zurich airport will be canceled until Tuesday evening. 

But SBB says it will resume most of its traffic on the main lines on Monday, though at reduced frequency.

Shorter train formations and longer journeys should also be expected in the next few days.

READ MORE: Swiss railways releases new time table: Here's what changes in 2021

How can you know ahead of time about any last-minute cancellations or delays?

The timetable is also constantly updated on the SBB Mobile App. 

Any delays or last minute cancellations are indicated there in real time.

On Twitter, @RailService and @railinfo_cff provide information on possible disruptions as well.

READ MORE: MAP: Return of night trains across Europe comes a step closer