This week, Olivier Français, a member of the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house, pointed out the long-running underinvestment in Switzerland’s rail infrastructure. According to the engineer and politician, billions have been cut from maintenance and investment budgets, reported RTS.
Michel Béguelin, a former transport commissioner, told RTS he remembers plans from the Federal Council to cut investment by CHF 600 million in 2004 and then by several 100 million over the following two years, savings made at the expense of maintenance, according to Béguelin. At the time experts had raised the alarm pointing out that savings were not possible, he said. Nicolas Rossé, a rail specialist at RTS, has made a similar observation.
According to Français, politicians have a tendency to underestimate the required level of investment in infrastructure. Cutting maintenance is serious, he said.
In addition, Swiss Rail is responsible for delays in platform maintenance. For years, the emphasis has been on expanding the network at the expense of maintenance. Key expansion projects have included the S-Bahn in Zurich and the high speed track connecting Bern and Olten.
The problem is not a recent revelation. A report requested in 2010 by Philippe Gauderon, the head of Swiss Rail infrastructure, found network maintenance was several billions of francs behind schedule. That year, 110km of track were replaced when 220km should be changed annually. In 2015, the Federal Transport Office calculated accumulated underinvestment of CHF 2.8 billion.
More recently, there has been a push to catch up on maintenance. However, Olivier Français is concerned cuts may be made as the federal government hunts for cost savings in its efforts to balance the books and repay the public debt that it has accumulated recently. Another risk is the diversion of funding for maintenance to the development of two new high speed lines planned for Switzerland. These will run north-south and east-west.
According to Français, we will see in the coming years whether Bern has learned from past errors.