Can the number of passengers carried by rail still be increased?

The answer is yes! SBB’s project “Rail 2030” is expected to increase capacity and eliminate bottlenecks, without compromising the high level of reliability and safety.

The Swiss rail network is already the most heavily used in the world. Every day, nearly one million people travel by train. The Swiss are the most frequent train users travelling the longest distance per inhabitant: almost 2,500 km per inhabitant every year. At the same time, some 200,000 tonnes of goods are transported by rail every day. This situation is the result of several factors: an attractive offer, wide territorial coverage, high levels of reliability and punctuality, and a unified tariff system.

The modernity of rolling stock and infrastructure contributes greatly to this success. Moreover, it is by investing heavily in the modernisation of bottlenecks and in new technologies that the rail network will be able to further increase its capacity. The Federal Council's strategy for railway development envisages three successive stages:

  1. by 2020, strengthen and complete the node system ^[The key element of Rail 2000 was the introduction of the node principle. This provides for trains to be in (connecting) stations for all destinations on a full or half-hourly basis, allowing trains to be changed without wasting time. The trains then continue to the next node, where all the trains are again ready to depart.] with a full regular schedule;
  2. by 2025, increase the frequency of station stops and expand capacity;
  3. by 2040, increase the speed of traffic on certain lines.

Each of these three steps (full regular service, increased frequency and the introduction of high speed) will increase rail performance. This will result in an increase in the number of railway customers at the expense of road (in domestic traffic) and short-haul air (internationally); this is known as modal shift, i.e. a shift from one mode of transport to another competing mode.

This will contribute significantly to reducing the energy consumption of the transport sector. For the same distance travelled, the train consumes on average four times less energy than the car per passenger transported (including losses linked to the generation and transport of electricity).

Nevertheless, the number of rail passengers is expected to grow faster than capacity, which may reduce comfort at peak times. Rail companies are increasingly encouraging passengers to travel outside peak hours. Macroeconomic measures, such as flexible working hours or teleworking, will also help to relieve pressure on the rail network during peak hours [→ Q37]. The situation is similar to that of the electricity grid, where they are trying to relieve the load through various demand management measures [→ Q78].


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