AFTER many years of close co-operation, Switzerland’s Bodensee-Toggenburg and Südost railways are to merge. On March 26, the BT and SOB boards announced that they had signed a letter of intent; subject to shareholders’ approval, the merger will take effect from January 1 2002.

Mergers elsewhere have left the two railways amongst the smallest standard gauge operators in Switzerland: BT has 65 route-km and SOB just 50. The boards believe that a single larger company will be better able to compete in an increasingly deregulated market, with a strategic main line linking the area around Lake Konstanz with the Gotthard axis at Arth-Goldau.

Regional passenger traffic will remain the principal business, including the flagship Voralpen-Express between St Gallen and Luzern. The railways also see potential for expanding their freight operations - SOB already has a stake in the locomotive leasing firm Lokoop AG, which will pass to the new company. The merged business will have its offices in St Gallen, with the operating depots remaining at Herisau and Samstagern. n