SWITZERLAND: The Federal Transport Office, BAV, has decided to postpone the award of new concessions to operate long-distance passenger services on the national network, and to directly award SBB a two-year extension to its existing contract until the December 2019 timetable change.

SBB had been in negotiation with regional operators BLS and SOB over a joint bid for the long-distance concession, which is due for renewal this year. However, the talks broke down after BLS decided to seek rights to operate a mix of regional express and inter-city services on selected routes from 2019. This was submitted in early September, along with a joint proposal from SBB and SOB which envisaged the smaller company taking over some routes including the historic Gotthard main line. A decision on the concession award had been expected by the beginning of December.

BAV announced on October 23 that following an initial assessment it had decided that both applications required ‘additional clarifications and in-depth analysis’. It would therefore consult with the cantons, transport authorities, operators and infrastructure managers during the first half of 2018 and make a decision by the middle of next year which routes should be awarded to each operator. In the meantime, it has launched a hearing into the two-year direct award, which it expects to issue ‘in good time’ before the timetable change on December 10.

‘Regretting’ BAV’s decision ‘not to make a material decision’ on the competing proposals, SBB said the delay would lead to legal and financial uncertainty, as the security of investments could no longer be guaranteed. It would carefully consider BAV’s reasoning and take legal advice.

SBB pointed out that it had already ordered a new fleet of long-distance trains valued at more than SFr3bn, which had a life-expectancy of at least 25 years. It expressed concern that uncertainty over the future long-distance service pattern would make it more difficult to integrate local services supported by the Confederation and individual cantons. The joint SBB-SOB proposal had envisaged that redesignation of the St Gallen – Chur and Neuchâtel – La-Chaux-de-Fonds routes from regional to long-distance would save the cantons around SFr30m a year in support payments.

Meanwhile, SBB said it would continue with its plans to improve long-distance and regional services from December, including additional trains from Basel and Luzern to Locarno via the Gotthard Base Tunnel. It also plans to number all IC and IR routes, making the network easier for passengers to use.

SBB said it would be ‘pushing ahead with the planned co-operation with SOB from 2020 onwards’ and was ready to resume talks with BLS. It remained convinced that given an increasingly competitive multi-modal transport market, a joint arrangement between the railways would ensure ‘the best outcome for all stakeholders, both now and in the future’. It therefore remained ‘open to discussion with all stakeholders’.