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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
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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. 

Image JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

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. 

Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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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9 things you might not know about the TGV as France’s high-speed train turns 40

France's high speed intercity train is celebrating its 40th birthday, so here are some more unusual facts about the much-loved TGV.

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France's high-speed train turns 40
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

In 1981, President François Mitterrand officially inaugurated the first high-speed rail line connecting Paris and Lyon. A few days later, a bright orange TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for “high-speed train”) raced down the tracks at over 200km/h.

In celebration of the TGVs landmark birthday, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Pierre Farandou – President of the SNCF, France’s national railway company – were on Friday at the Gare de Lyon in Paris to unveil the ‘TGV of the future’.

In front of a full-scale model of the new TGV M, Macron hailed a prime example of “French genius” and promised to unlock €6.5 billion to develop the TGV network, including new lines serving cities such as Nice and Toulouse.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

Emmanuel Macron (right) delivers a speech next to a life-size replica of the next TGV high-speed train at Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

“We’re going to continue this grand adventure with new industrial commitments,” since more people are looking beyond metropoles to smaller cities – an apparent allusion to post-Covid prospects.

“We see clearly that life and work are going to be restructured, and that our fellow citizens today want to organise their time for living and time for working differently,” he said.

The streamlined version of the bullet train promises to carry more passengers – up to 740 passengers from 600 – while using 20 percent less electricity.

It will continue to whiz people between cities at a top speed of 320 km/h, making most door-to-door trips shorter and cheaper than on airplanes.

To celebrate the birthday of the TGV (which in French is pronounce tay-shay-vay) blowing out its 40 candles, here are a few fun facts about the super-speedy trains.

Patrick  – That’s the name of the first TGV. Built in 1978 and set into action in 1981 on the Paris-Lyon line, the bright orange Patrick travelled some 13.5 million kilometres before taking his well-earned retirement last year.

574.8 km/h – That’s the world rail speed record, held by the Alstom V150 TGV. Although Japan’s superconductor-powered Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains travel faster – with a record of 603 km/h – they technically don’t run on rails.

3 – That’s how many times the TGV has set the world rail speed record: in 1981 (380 km/h), 1990 (515.3 km/h) and 2007 (574.8 km/h). 

2,734 km – That’s the total length of France’s high-speed rail network, with even more lines set to be constructed in the future. This means France has the fourth-longest high-speed rail network in the world, behind China, Spain, and Japan. 

0 – That’s how many passengers sit aboard the IRIS 320, which travels some 1,500 km every day. Laden with cameras and scanners, this 200-metre-long TGV rapidly inspects the state of the TGV’s train lines in order to ensure travellers’ safety and security.

€7 – That’s how much it costs to take a small pet – including a snail – on the TGV. Animals, even tiny ones, need their own tickets. In 2008 a TGV passenger fined for carrying live snails in his luggage without a ticket for his animals, although the fine was later waived after the story received national attention.

240 That’s the number of stations served by the TGV network. 183 of these stations can be found in France. The others are located in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

3 billion – That’s how many travellers the TGV had hoped to reach by the end of 2021. The pandemic may have derailed their plans slightly, but the service is still looking strong. The network served it’s 2 billionth passenger in 2012, just over 30 years after its launch.

1947 – the last year without a single recorded strike on the rail network in France. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-1947 was a golden age of industrial relations – just that SNCF’s records are incomplete before then.

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