• Notes from the Federal Palace

A year of major milestones in Swiss transport policy


2016 is a decisive year for transport policy in Switzerland. Key milestones for current and future transport infrastructure projects will be set during the course of the year.

On 28 February, the Swiss people decided on the renovation of the 17-kilometre-long Gotthard road tunnel. By approving the second tube, voters opted for a safe, rapid and sustainable road link on the north-south axis which takes account of the key issues of alpine conservation.

The next milestone will be achieved over the coming days with the opening of the Gotthard tunnel – the world’s longest railway tunnel. This project is part of the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA). It significantly reduces journey times for passengers and goods on the railways and is a cornerstone of the transport policy seeking to shift freight transit to the railways from border to border. Further key elements are the Ceneri Base Tunnel and the four-metre corridor for freight transport through the Alps where the railway infrastructure on all approach routes to the Gotthard Base Tunnel will be brought into line with current standards and greater capacity will be created for combined transportation (HGVs on railway carriages). These construction projects will improve the general situation for the economy and the well-being of future generations.

But all this does not come free of charge. If Switzerland wishes to continue to look after its transport infrastructure, it will require a solid financial basis. Simply shifting funds from one government portfolio to another as envisaged by the popular initiative entitled “For fair financing of transport” (the so-called “milch cow initiative”) is not an expedient approach. Launched by auto-schweiz and recommended for rejection by the Federal Council this goes to the vote on 5 June. The initiative calls for all federal government revenues generated from road transport to be used solely in this area.

A master plan is required for funding transport infrastructure. The Federal Council is aware of this and has taken the first steps towards addressing the issue. The bill to fund and expand the railway infrastructure entered into force on 1 January 2016. The Swiss people had approved the corresponding constitutional amendment in February 2014. Under this, the operation, maintenance and future expansion of the railway infrastructure is to be funded from a single pot, the Railway Infrastructure Fund.

The Federal Council is now seeking to implement on the roads what has already been achieved on the railways. The increasing mobility of people and goods is putting strain on the current national road network, making further expansion necessary. In order to secure the long-term funding of the national highways and urban transport, the Federal Council has decided to create a permanent fund at constitutional level – the National Highways and Urban Transport Fund. Existing and new revenues will be fed into this fund. The issue is currently being debated in Parliament. The Council of States approved the fund in mid-March as the first chamber. The constitutional amendment will eventually be decided upon at referendum.

However, expansion projects alone will not be sufficient to cope with the rapid growth in traffic in Switzerland. It is vital that we make even more efficient and intensive use of the existing roads. What will help above all, is an effective transport management strategy involving different instruments. Intelligent mobility will also open up new opportunities which should not be underestimated. Our vehicles are already communicating independently with their environment, using driver assistance systems. Some models already possess the technical equipment to self-drive. Postauto AG will trial an automated bus for passenger transportation on a particular route in Sion for the first time this year – a further milestone in this eventful year of 2016. The Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) and, in particular, the Federal Roads Office (FEDRO) are actively involved in these developments in the interests of realising safe, sustainable, environmentally friendly and affordable mobility.

Jürg Röthlisberger, Director of the Federal Roads Office (FEDRO)