SWISS FEDERAL Railways is facing the prospect of reducing service levels following government pressure to cut costs.

When similar pressure was brought to bear last year, SBB was able to negotiate with the Ministry of Transport a package of savings amounting to around SFr300m. This included postponement of resignalling work and construction projects as well as delays to station improvements and other plans. This time Chief Executive Benedikt Weibel has gone on the offensive, warning that customers may be directly affected. He said in July that SBB is ’looking very seriously’ at withdrawing early morning and late evening long-distance passenger services as well as regional trains with poor cost recovery ratios; bus replacements could be considered for lightly-used trains.

Weibel identified standard-gauge railways in Switzerland not run by SBB as offering potential for cost-cutting, suggesting that SBB could take them over to achieve economies of scale and hence ’considerable savings’ in the medium term.

SBB said on August 17 that, following pressure from the cantons and local authorities, drastic cuts to passenger services were unlikely. It also confirmed that the massive timetable change planned for December 12 is unaffected. The timetable represents the culmination of years of preparation under the Bahn 2000 programme, including construction of the 45 km new line between Mattstetten and Rothrist. Train-km will rise by 14%, and significant journey time savings are planned on at least 13 routes, with service frequency stepped up in several corridors. Half-hourly non-stop trains will run between Genève and Lausanne, and there will be a 30min interval non-stop Bern - Zürich service completing the trip in under 1h, despite speed being limited to 160 km/h rather than the planned 200 km/h as Level 2 ETCS will not be operational. n