Since 1994, the Swiss Constitution has contained a provision on transferring freight transport through the Alps from road to rail. Thanks to the effective measures taken, around three quarters of freight is now transported by rail. The aim is to continue with this policy and to reduce the number of truck journeys through the Alps to 650,000 a year.
Transfer of transalpine freight traffic from road to rail
Since the Swiss voters approved the 1994 ‘Alpine Initiative’, the principle has been enshrined in the Federal Constitution, to transfer transit freight traffic through the Alps from road to rail. The Federal Council and Parliament ensured that this resolution can be implemented within a market economy framework and without discrimination against foreign hauliers. The Goods Traffic Transfer Act provides that the number of journeys by domestic and foreign lorries and semi-trailers through the Swiss Alps must be lowered from 1.4 million in 2000 to 650,000 per year. Various instruments have been approved and implemented to achieve this:
- Heavy goods vehicle charge (HGVC): Since the beginning of 2001, lorries on all Swiss roads pay a distance-, weight- and emissions-related charge. Two thirds of the revenues from the LSVA are allocated to the Rail Infrastructure Fund (RIF), from which the NRLA has been financed, among other things.
- Modernisation of the rail infrastructure: For about CHF 24 billion, Switzerland has built the NRLA and the 4-metre corridor on the Gotthard route. The Gotthard, Ceneri and Lötschberg base tunnels, and the uniform profile mean that more freight trains are able to travel under easier conditions. Journey times between north and south are becoming shorter.
- Railway Reform: Liberalising the freight market and opening the rail network to third parties increases competition among railway companies. The rail service has become better and more cost-effective.
- Land Transport Agreement between Switzerland and the EU: This ensures Switzerland’s policy to transfer freight transport from road to rail vis-à-vis Europe; the EU recognises Switzerland’s goals and instruments, in particular the HGVC.
- Supporting measures: Operating subsidies and investment grants for unaccompanied combined transport and the Rolling Highway support and strengthen the modal shift.
Thanks to these tools and measures, the number of heavy goods vehicles passing through the Swiss Alps has fallen to below one million. Without these measures, because freight traffic is constantly growing, around 800,000 additional lorries and semi-trailers would now be crossing the Alps every year. Freight traffic through the Swiss Alps by rail has a market share of about three quarters – significantly more than in neighbouring countries with similar topography. Combined transport dominates this figure.