The first step of several in Switzerland’s reform of the railways began in 1999. Since then, the Swiss rail system has become more efficient and been brought into line with developments in Europe.
By the 1990s the railway system in Switzerland and many other European countries had become outdated. Modernisation was becoming ever more urgent. The aim of railway reform throughout Europe was to improve efficiency and customer focus in order to make the railways more competitive over other forms of transport.
Since then, railway reform has led to improvements particularly in the following four areas:
- Non-discrimination: By separating the infrastructure from traffic operations, other railway companies have gained access to the network. While the EU chose to separate both areas completely, Switzerland took a pragmatic approach which included a train-route allocation body, systems management and the right to participation by transport companies.
- Competition: Freight transport was liberalised early on and liberalisation was implemented systematically. In addition, some regional public bus routes were made subject to tender.
- Reform of the national railways: The Swiss Federal Railways SBB was changed into a public limited company under special law. The Federal Council, as majority shareholder, determines the strategic objectives of the company but deliberately exerts little influence over its operations.
- Role of the state: The tasks of the state and levels of government were reorganised. This resulted, for example, in the state becoming a limited partner rather than an entity covering deficit, and in greater clarity of the role of the federal and cantonal authorities in planning the railway network.
These reforms have made not only the Swiss railway system but also the whole public transport network much more attractive and often admired abroad. Reform continues and further steps are under way.