TWO MOUNTAINS and a lake have long-constrained the city of Zürich. As a result, urban development has focused on the lower-lying areas towards the northeast, around the airport and the towns of the Glatt valley. These are served by several S-Bahn routes, but it became apparent during the 1990s that more local services were needed.

Discussions for options to improve public transport in Dübendorf, Wallisellen, Opfikon and Kloten began as long ago as 1990. By 1995 plans had been drawn up for two metre-gauge tram routes, connecting with existing VBZ tracks in Oerlikon. One line runs north through Opfikon to the passenger and freight terminals at Kloten airport. The other runs east to the S-Bahn station at Stettbach via the television studios at Leutschenbach and Zentrum Glatt, Switzerland’s largest shopping centre.

The Glattalbahn project is being promoted by Züricher Verkehrsverbund on behalf of canton Zürich. The concession to build and run the network was awarded in 2001 to local transport operator Verkehrsbetreibe Glattal, although the tram services will actually be operated under contract by VBZ.

The 12·7 km network is being built in three stages. Construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony on September 14 2004, and the 3 km first section with five stops was inaugurated with the timetable change on December 10 2006. Phase 1A1 runs from the former VBZ terminus at Messe/Hallenstadion as far as Auzelg, and is worked as an extension of Route 11.

Construction work began in September 2006 on the 5·2 km Phase 1A2, which will complete the northern route from a junction at Glattpark to the airport and provide a second link from Leutschenbach to the VBZ network at Oerlikon station. This is due to be worked as part of VBZ Route 10. Phase 1A2 is substantially more complicated, as it includes an 860 m viaduct as well as a 400 m tunnel to take the trams under SBB’s Zürich - Kloten - Winterthur main line. Despite this, construction is due to be completed in just two years, with opening expected at the end of 2008.

The third stage - Phase 1B - is to be ready after a further two years, completing the eastern branch to Stettbach. From Auzelg, the line will cross the N20 motorway and then run parallel to it through Wallisellen to Zentrum Glatt. Passing through an intersection with the A1 motorway, the line will continue through the shopping and industrial areas around Dübendorf and turn south to reach Stettbach S-Bahn station and an interchange with VBZ Route 7.

Tangential service too
A key element of the project is the provision of a direct service between Stettbach and the airport, using a triangular junction at Glattpark. Route 12 will be the principal service east of Auzelg, although Route 11 may be extended to Stettbach at peak times. All three routes are expected to operate at 15 min intervals, with two routes overlapping on each leg of the network to give a basic headway of 7½ min. Design of the alignments, overhead line equipment and stops has been co-ordinated to give the Glattalbahn a uniform aesthetic look. Wherever possible the existing tree-lined avenues have been retained, and even expanded. Special emphasis has been put on personal mobility, with extensive provision for buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles. Total cost is put at SFr555m, plus a further SFr97m for related road construction works. The bulk of the investment is being funded by canton Zürich, with a contribution from the federal government.

VBZ is providing the rolling stock and hopes to exercise an option for 10 to 20 extra Cobra trams to follow its present build in 2011 the exact quantity will depend on the result of a forthcoming referendum over the Tram West extension proposals. VBG will fund the infrastructure maintenance and the operating subsidies. Current projections estimate that around 60% of the operating costs will be met out of fare revenue. Putting the investment in context, canton Zürich calculates that the value of actual or planned investment projects in the areas to be served by the new tram routes already exceeds SFr9bn. This includes a decision by the US manufacturer Kraft Foods to move its European headquarters to a site alongside the future Lindbergh-Platz stop just north of Glattpark.

In the longer term, discussions are underway for a further extension to create a ring line. A fourth elbow-shaped route running north from Dübendorf and then west to the airport would link the outer ends of the two branches. This has the potential to reduce the increasingly serious traffic congestion in the suburbs and shopping areas around Dietlikon.

With the inauguration of Glattalbahn services, Route 11 has been extended by 3 km to Auzelg. This is the first stage of the line to Stettbach which will be worked as Route 12. If the proposed Ringbahn is built, the Glattalbahn network could comprise up to four lines connecting Zurich’s northern suburbs. The local authorities hope that the trams will alleviate some of the pressure on the roads in the area.