BYLINE: Moritz Leuenberger

Swiss Federal Minister for Environment, Transport, Energy & Communications

HISTORIC national referendums in September and November 1998 have set the direction which rail infrastructure development will take in the next century. Over the next two decades SFr30·5bn will be spent on major rail projects. This puts the proportion invested in railways compared with roads at a level which is unmatched in the last 50 years.

Our investment plans demonstrate the Swiss government’s policy of pursuing sustainable transport development to minimise environmental impact on the sensitive Alpine region. It is a fundamental principle to transfer traffic, and in particular freight, from road to rail wherever possible. This applies to both domestic and international routes.

With the existing rail corridors across the Swiss Alps already operating at near capacity, a number of major engineering projects will be needed to cope with the expected demand - particularly if this is to be done while limiting growth in road freight to a minimum. But this is only one element of the plans - and will absorb less than half the funding now committed.

Setting the broad objectives

The government’s desire to develop a sustainable transport policy has seen an incremental approach which began with declarations by the Federal Council, government bills concerning major transport issues, and the subsequent approval of these plans by the electorate. Our objectives have been included within the broad aims of EU White Papers, to the extent that this can safely be described as a co-ordinated European transport policy.

The next stage entailed Railway Reform to establish market-like conditions for all public transport and restructuring of Swiss Federal Railways. Legislation for this was adopted by parliament in spring 1998. Rules affecting regional passenger transport had already been changed in 1996 to improve efficiency, and the Railway Reform package built on this by allowing rail operations to be managed under market rules, but without exposing them to extreme conditions. This implies that management should be given greater freedom while political influence is curbed. Switzerland has voluntarily adopted EU directive 91/440 permitting open access to the network for freight traffic. This willl also apply to operators based in other countries, provided that reciprocal rights are granted for Swiss companies.

In parallel with this reform we have not ignored the need to level the playing field with road haulage. Proposals were accepted in September 1998 to revise lorry taxation to implement a mileage-related tax on heavy vehicles, replacing an annual flat charge with a tax per km on all lorries, including those registered outside Switzerland.

Probably the greatest step taken to date was the November 1998 referendum to adopt the Financing Public Transport package, which will see no less than SFr30·5bn invested in our railways. This is the largest sum that Swiss voters have ever approved, with both individuals and cantons achieving a significant majority in favour. This ensures that the four key rail infrastructure developments can be completed: