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‘Neither wise nor feasible’: Why are Swiss trains the slowest in Europe?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
‘Neither wise nor feasible’: Why are Swiss trains the slowest in Europe?
Swiss rail system is not adapted to fast trains. Image by Jason from Pixabay

Though Switzerland’s rail network is known for its punctuality and efficiency, in terms of speed its trains trail behind the rest of Europe. Why is that?

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In many parts of the country, the average train speed is 100 km per hour, while the speed of 200 or even 300 km per hour has long been the norm elsewhere in Europe. 

Only three lines allow Swiss trains to reach a speed of 200 km per hour: between Olten and Bern, in the Lötschberg base tunnel, and on the Alpine crossroads under the Gotthard and Monte Ceneri.

Why aren’t Swiss trains faster?

You may want to chalk it up to the fact that things in Switzerland generally move at a snail's pace, but that's not the main reason.

Rather, being fast is not a top priority for the national railway company (SBB) or the Federal Office of Transport (FOT), both of which favour reliability and quality of service over speed.

And there is another reason as well: according to FOT, Switzerland is not adapted to speedy trains because the country opted to focus instead on developing a dense network that covers all regions.

For instance, making frequent stops at all stations along a given line means a train can’t travel fast.

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And while there have been moves to speed up the train travel in Switzerland, “this increase would encourage urban sprawl and energy consumption,” FOT pointed out.

“This is why increasing the number of high-speed lines is neither wise nor feasible."

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