Transfer of transalpine freight traffic from road to rail

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, 70% 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.

Güterzug im Gotthard-Basistunnel
In freight traffic through the Swiss Alps, rail has a market share of about 70%

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:

  • Distance-related 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 is being financed, among other things.
  • Modernisation of the rail infrastructure: For about CHF 24 billion, Switzerland is building the NRLA and the 4-metre corridor on the Gotthard route. The base tunnels on the Gotthard, Ceneri and Lötschberg, and the uniform profile mean that freight trains are able to travel under simplified 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 undertakings. The rail service has become better and more cost-effective.
  • Land Transport Agreement between Switzerland and the EU: This secures the Swiss modal shift policy vis-à-vis Europe; the EU recognises Swiss 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 Alp has decreased 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. In freight traffic through the Swiss Alps, rail has a market share of about 70% – massively more than in neighbouring countries with similar topography. Combined transport dominates this figure.