SWITZERLAND: The Federal Office for Transport has decided to split the concession to operate long-distance passenger services on the national network, although Swiss Federal Railways will continue to be responsible for all but two routes.

BAV announced on April 19 that it expects to award a concession to SBB to operate most long-distance services for a 10-year period from the end of 2019. The national operator would continue to run all services designated as Intercity and most of the so-called Basic Network. However, the regional express routes from Bern to Biel and from Bern to Burgdorf and Olten would be allocated to BLS.

The regional operator had applied to run five routes, including those from Basel to Interlaken and Brig, but the other three were rejected by BAV because of doubts about the proposed start dates and the availability of rolling stock.

While welcoming the decision that it would continue to run most long-distance services, SBB criticised the proposal to split operation of the network, describing it as a ‘paradigm shift’ that would lead to an irrevocable change of direction for Switzerland’s successful public transport system. The long-distance network was effectively a national S-Bahn, it argued, suggesting that for this reason it should be run by a single organisation.

Nevertheless, BAV has accepted SBB’s proposal to contract with regional operator SOB to run services on the historic Gotthard main line and between Chur and Bern via Zürich. It said the operators were at liberty to negotiate co-operation agreements, noting that SBB had pledged to hold further discussions with all interested parties before taking a definitive stand.

BAV is now consulting on its proposals with the cantons, operators and other interested parties, responses are due by May 23 ahead of a definitive ruling in mid-June. In the meantime, the office notes that the competition for the concession has resulted in a better offer for passengers, suggesting that taxpayers will benefit from savings worth ‘millions of francs in double figures’.