Bahn 2000 off to a good start
In the year since the launch of its ambitious Bahn 2000 timetable Swiss Federal Railways has seen inter-city traffic rise by 7·5%, and the challenge now is to integrate international services in 2007 when the Lötschberg base tunnel opens. Planners are now turning their attention to the long-term development of the Swiss network
ONE YEAR on from the launch of the Bahn 2000 timetable, Swiss Federal Railways can look back with some satisfaction at the ambitious change made to its passenger services. On December 12 2004 alterations were made to the timings of 98% of all SBB's passenger trains, with the introduction of more services increasing train-km by 12%.
Customers' expectations were very high, with both the public and politicians rightly looking for a quantum leap in the standard of public transport - more frequent services, shorter journey times and the latest rolling stock. From SBB's point of view, it was a one-off opportunity to make public transport more attractive and to win new customers to rail. Immense care had been taken with the preparations for the new timetable, and thanks to these efforts SBB counts the launch as a great success. The change went so well that media far beyond the Swiss frontiers ran positive stories on the changes.
The weather last winter was particularly severe with above average snowfall and exceptionally low temperatures at the end of January making great demands on both staff and equipment. Inevitably, some services were affected, and the situation became critical on February 7 when equipment failed in the Zürich operations control centre.
Changes in the way operations are organised ensured that service stability was soon restored, but a far greater challenge lay ahead. In the late afternoon of June 22 2005 the entire Swiss railway power supply network collapsed, remaining out of service for several hours with trains immobilised across the entire network. The whole Bahn 2000 concept was challenged by this event, which served as a brutal reality test. Thanks to the professionalism of everyone involved, operations were restored quickly with most services running normally again on the following day.
Operations remained stable until yet another crisis struck Switzerland. Storms and massive rainfall caused heavy flooding in the summer, with serious damage to lines in central Switzerland and to both the Gotthard and Lötschberg corridors. The east-west main line linking Genève with Zürich and St Gallen was fortunately not affected, and services on this route ran normally.
Standing room only
Quite soon after the December 2004 launch it became clear that SBB had met or even exceeded customers' expectations. Traffic on some routes had increased so much that no seats were available at peak hours. With more than 90% of trains running to new timings, there was no reliable data on how passengers would respond, so SBB quickly put in place intensive monitoring of traffic on all routes. This revealed 36 locations where overcrowding was a problem, and these were dealt with by increasing the number of coaches on some trains and by squeezing extra services into the timetable.
After six months SBB ascertained that inter-city and long-distance passenger traffic was up by 7·5%, rising to 11% on routes such as Bern - Zürich where Switzerland's only high speed line between Mattstetten and Rothrist had shortened journey times. This pleasing result was well ahead of the forecasts in SBB's passenger business budget.
Information to passengers
With the launch of Bahn 2000 SBB took the opportunity to revise its procedures on passenger information and incident management. The aim is to give passengers comprehensive information whenever their journey is affected by unforeseen events.
Early experience with the new timetable suggested that there were still gaps in the information provided, prompting management to launch a series of information initiatives across the SBB businesses. The focus was strongly on technical improvements and on better organisation.
Developing the market
Provision of extra capacity also obliged SBB to ensure that the trains were well loaded wherever possible. This prompted the launch of a package of marketing initiatives, centred on making access to rail services easier.
A carefully targeted programme to expand sales and marketing activity was introduced. Apart from investing in advanced ticket vending machines across the network, SBB began to develop its internet ticketing facility. Both private and business customers are now able to choose the tickets they need and print them out at home or in their offices.
In early December SBB introduces ticketing via mobile phones, allowing a passenger to ring SBB's call centre and pay for a ticket shortly before departure. The ticket is then delivered directly to the passenger's mobile phone in MMS format; such tickets can be checked by onboard staff using special barcode readers.
Switzerland is unusual in that many passengers using public transport buy discounted tickets. Around 2 million Swiss possess a half-price railcard and about 280 000 people renew their all-line season ticket every year. SBB recognised that any marketing strategy had to include the interests of these loyal customers, and the marketing department therefore initiated a customer relationship management programme with targeted offers and incentives for regular travellers.
The next step
Another important deadline is looming. This is the timetable change in December 2007 which SBB has dubbed the international Bahn 2000 project. The year 2007 is critical for international services to and from Switzerland as it will see the opening of the Lötschberg base tunnel. This will allow the launch of high speed inter-city services using second-generation Cisalpino tilting trains, changing the competitive map on the north-south corridor.
The east-west business will change too with the opening of TGV Est, probably followed in 2008 by the reopening of the Haut-Bugey cut-off in France (RG 8.05 p489). Both these projects will give SBB the opportunity to develop excellent marketing concepts for international services. Improvements are also planned for the services that link Swiss cities with Germany, and ICE trains will run from Zürich and Interlaken every 2 h.