The new vision of the Federal Council for rail angers the French-speaking part of Switzerland

One vision, six goals and a reorientation. This is how the Federal Council summed up its perspective of Rail 2050 on Wednesday. For the main lines, the projects are underway, but there are no new major achievements in sight, except the doubling tracks in the Lötschberg tunnel along its entire length. Priority is now given to traffic from the agglomeration to its capital. “It’s a retrograde vision without ambition, which goes against certain decisions of parliament”, irritates the Vaudois senator Olivier Français.

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The Federal Council has therefore revised its long-term strategy. So far, he had focused on eliminating bottlenecks and improving throughput. It’s finish! There is therefore no longer any question of wanting to gain a few minutes on the SBB parade line between Zurich and Bern, where the train is already “unbeatable” by road today, according to Simonetta Sommaruga, the head of the Federal Department for the Environment, transport, energy and communication (DETEC). “It is in the urban areas, where 85% of the country’s workers reside, that rail has the greatest potential for development,” she stressed.

Projects for 25 billion

The Federal Council thus wants to coordinate the extension of the railway offer with the objectives of territorial development. The expansion of the network therefore does not stop. No less than 300 projects, already approved by parliament, are underway between the two development stages 2025 and 2035 and the ZEB rail infrastructure development program. “There are 25 billion francs worth,” reminded the director of the Federal Office of Transport Peter Füglistaler. There are even so many of them that the realization of some of them took between three and five years of delay. Due to these numerous construction sites, the supply will lose stability or will have to be temporarily restricted on certain sections. It will therefore be necessary to distribute the adjustments over time.

According to the Federal Council, by 2050, traffic will increase by 11% for passengers and 31% for goods. The share of public transport will gain three percentage points in overall traffic to reach 24%, largely thanks to rail, which also has the advantage of being eco-compatible. Priority is therefore given to increasing RER traffic and connecting small and medium-sized towns to large conurbations. An exception, however, which will delight the Valaisans. The government has decided to double the Lötschberg line over its entire length, which will create additional capacity and stabilize its operation by 2035. An additional credit of 500 million will be devoted to this project.

“We play Märklin trains”

Despite this, in French-speaking Switzerland it is dissatisfaction, even anger that predominates. “We’re playing small Märklin trains,” exasperated Olivier Français, member of the transport commission (CTT) of the Council of States. It has been fighting for years for a “federal cross of mobility”, by multiplying the interventions approved by the Chambers for a master plan for the network which makes up for the inequalities in treatment suffered by French-speaking Switzerland and Eastern Switzerland. Because if the train reaches an average speed of 175 km/h between Zurich and Bern, it only “crawls” at 90 km/h between Bern and Lausanne, and Winterthur and Saint Gall. However, the vision put out for consultation by the Federal Council does not present any improvement on this section. “This unequal treatment is unacceptable”, deplores Olivier Français.

During her press conference, Simonetta Sommaruga tried to reassure the Romands: “It is true that between Bern and Lausanne, just like between Winterthur and Saint-Gall, the train is not yet competitive with the road. We will see what we can do to save a few minutes, ”acknowledged the Federal Councilor, but without giving a precise timetable. Same observation for the Lausanne-Geneva route, where “the Tolochenaz hole” paralyzed rail traffic for a few days last November. “We are doing a study, the results of which will be known in 2023 for a decision to be made between 2026 and 2030,” said Peter Füglistaler. DETEC should expect some angry statements at the end of its consultation.

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