THE European alliance of new rail entrants, AllRail, is calling on the Swiss government to open the domestic passenger rail market to competition.
“Competitive bidding should be introduced for all long-distance rail concessions,” says AllRail. “By doing so, Swiss rail operators would learn how to better compete, and passengers would benefit.”
Switzerland’s second biggest train operator BLS applied to the Swiss Federal Transport Office (BAV) in 2017 to run five long-distance routes in a bid to break the monopoly of Swiss Federal Railway. BLS offered new rolling stock and better service quality.
According to AllRail, BAV itself noted that: “competition for the concession has resulted in a better offer for passengers, suggesting that taxpayers will benefit from savings worth millions of francs in double figures.”
However, in April BAV announced that BLS will only be allowed to operate two routes while SBB will be granted a 10-year concession to operate the rest of the network.
AllRail says the involvement of more than one operator in long-distance rail has already achieved positive effects. Southeastern Rail (SOB) will soon be operating on the historic Gotthard mainline with new improved rolling stock, albeit under concession to incumbent SBB.
Nevertheless, AllRail says SBB is lobbying hard to stop BLS. SBB’s CEO Mr Andreas Meyer says that BLS’ recent bid will cause fares to rise. “For AllRail, this is hard to imagine, considering that competitive bidding in Europe has achieved 20-30% in taxpayer savings,” the association says.
According to AllRail, Meyer has warned that competitive bidding runs the risk of European transport groups entering the market, despite the fact that SBB already operates concessions outside Switzerland that it won through competitive bidding.
“Last but not least: in an act of particular heavy-handedness, SBB has already promised further legal action should BAV award the concession to BLS,” says AllRail.
Mr Nick Brooks, secretary-general of AllRail, says: “the stakes are very high. If the second biggest rail operator in the country is denied a fair chance to operate long-distance trains, then the monopoly will be enshrined.”
The association says BAV should welcome competitive bids and treat them on a fair and equitable basis, without being intimidated.
“The greatest risk is for passengers,” Brooks says. “Switzerland should not miss the next step in becoming a modern and sustainable rail market.”