Can single wagonload traffic be profitable in Switzerland?

Michael Müller Federal Office of Transport

Single wagonload traffic in Switzerland is no longer financially viable, but it is deemed essential by many. The Federal Office of Transport is currently outlining the possible ways forward. interviewed spokesperson Michael Müller about the future of this transport mode.

As it was reported last week, a draft proposal for two variants will be soon submitted to the Swiss Parliament. The first variant would imply that the financial autonomy of rail freight is maintained, while the state provides incentives such as calming contributions, with single wagonload traffic that would disappear. The second variant would rely more on the modernisation of single wagonload traffic, which would require more extensive financial help from the Confederation.

What is the current problem Switzerland is facing?
Changing logistical needs and the declining importance of industrial production with a corresponding decline in rail freight transport volumes have contributed to the fact that single wagonload traffic is becoming less and less profitable. Without profound countermeasures in production and financing, it is likely to become financially unsustainable in the coming years.

Could you please explain what single wagonload traffic is and why it is important for Switzerland?
In surface rail freight transport, domestic, import, and export, a significant proportion of goods are transported in so-called single wagonload traffic. In this process, individual rail cars or groups of cars are collected from sidings and open-air loading facilities, formed into trains, and led to marshaling yards, where new trains are put together depending on the destination region. At the destination station, they are distributed again as individual wagons or groups of wagons. This network enables many transports between the most important production sites, logistics centers, and warehouses in Switzerland. This facilitates smooth logistics and production processes for the shipping industry because regular, bundled deliveries eliminate the need for costly warehousing.

Who will the draft be submitted to this fall?
The Swiss government will launch a public consultation this fall with proposals for the further development of freight transport in Switzerland. This concerns domestic traffic as well as export and import freight traffic, excluding transalpine freight traffic. Parties, associations, cantons, and other interested parties will be able to comment on these proposals as part of this consultation process.

Why is the TransAlpine freight traffic excluded from the consultation?
Transalpine freight transport by rail is already strongly supported by Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Constitution stipulates that transalpine transit freight traffic must be shifted from road to rail. Various measures have been taken to achieve this goal.

What do you think is the best solution and why?
The Federal Council will propose two variants. In the end, Parliament will decide which variant will be implemented. Freight transport contributes to the supply of our country and strengthens Switzerland’s climate policy. Without government support, this form of freight transport would probably disappear in the long term. As a result, more goods would be transported by road. In this respect, state support makes sense. At the same time, the question must always be asked whether an unprofitable private service should be supported with tax money.

Why can’t the two variants mentioned exist side by side?
It is conceivable that the parliament will implement elements from both variants for the further development of freight transport.

What could be the benefits of the implementation of both variants for smaller and bigger businesses?
It is primarily single-wagonload traffic that is affected. This is operated in Switzerland by SBB Cargo. What effects the decision of the parliament could have on SBB Cargo, you have to ask them. If the single wagonload traffic would disappear, many companies would have to transport their goods on trucks.

What would be the ideal role of the state, apart from financing?
The state creates the framework conditions that are necessary for the economy to function. It ensures legal certainty, sets standards, and issues regulations. With incentive systems or incentive taxes, it steers the economy in the direction desired by politicians. As a supervisory and control authority, the state ensures compliance with the rules and regulations.

Is there a deadline for the draft?
The Federal Council will open the consultation process in the fall. The exact date has not yet been set. The Parliament will not make its decision until next year.

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Author: Marco Raimondi

Marco Raimondi is an editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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