How the heatwave has impacted train travel in Switzerland
The heatwave sweeping across Switzerland has hit rail infrastructure hard, with cancellations and delays. Here’s what you need to know.
In recent weeks, news has emerged of Swiss airports hit hard by delays, cancellations and lost baggage.
While train travel may have emerged as a reliable alternative, a surge in demand along with impacts of the heatwave which has swept across Europe has seen significant delays, particularly for middle to long distance travel.
On certain routes, almost every second train is cancelled, while other lines have been hit with delays.
Where are the delays the worst?
The majority of the delays have hit Swiss connections into Germany, as the latter deals with a range of issues of its own.
One of the more popular lines - the direct train between Zurich and Stuttgart - has been cut completely due to signal box failures.
Swiss news outlet Watson reports that there have been a number of cancellations between Zurich and Hamburg, with the train only running as far as Basel (from Zurich).
An analysis of trains from Germany to Bern and Zurich from Swiss media found only five from 42 trains over one week arrived on time.
Of that 42, 17 arrived with an average delay of 25 minutes.
Another 20 failed to reach their Swiss destination and needed to stop in Basel, requiring passengers to get a connection.
Trains from Germany to Bern were particularly hard hit, with not a single ICE train making the journey for the week ending July 19th.
Further cancellations are expected from July 30th, when trains undergo maintenance.
Swiss media analysis shows that while there have been some more minor delays between France and Switzerland, trains between Switzerland and both Italy and Austria have been running reliably.
Why is the situation so bad?
A number of factors have contributed to the delays. Chaotic conditions in air travel have led to an increase in demand for train travel - which has put additional strain on rail resources.
Then there’s the heatwave. The tracks on which the trains and trams run are impacted by high temperatures as well.
“Persistent temperatures of over 30 degrees can lead to what is known as track warping”, according to report in Swiss tabloid Blick.
“Railway tracks expand, deform and become a safety hazard”.
The newspaper added that latest security checks carried out on the tracks have “discovered anomalies”.
Warped or otherwise deformed rails cause delays because “in order to ensure operational safety and driving comfort, the speed has been reduced at the affected places,” said Sonja Körkel, spokesperson for the Basel Public Transport (BVB).
It is too early to say whether the heatwave will inflict permanent or serious damage on the transport infrastructure, but some regional carriers have come up with creative solutions to …cover their tracks.
For instance, the Rhaetian Railway’s operators have painted the rails white “on certain parts of our network”, so that tracks don’t heat up as much and expand less, said company spokesperson Yvonne Dünser.
Other transport providers have taken preventive measures by adding gravel to stabilise the railway tracks, so they have less leeway to deform, according to the report.