Take the S4, for example. It always used to change direction in Stans.  It would wait there for over 30 minutes. During that time, the vehicle simply remained at a standstill. Operationally, the S4 could be extended to Wolfenschiessen every hour. So that’s what happened. This is how people living in Dallenwil and Wolfenschiessen got a half-hourly service with no significant financial implications.  How do changes like that make it into the timetable? And how do ideas get turned into actual improvements? This can be achieved by showing some foresight and a customer-orientated approach, but also through constant dialogue and meticulous planning.

The cantons and the Confederation as customers

“Basically, the four cantons of Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden and Bern  as well as the Confederation order the timetable”, explains Roland Christen, project coordinator at Zentralbahn. The expenses and expected income are combined in a single proposal. The difference must be reimbursed by the “commissioning cantons” and the Confederation. The proposal for each is valid for two timetable years. “That’s why the timetable is usually always the same for two years because the cantons and the Confederation do not provide any additional budget .” Then only minor adjustments that do not incur additional costs can be implemented.

Input on the timetable is welcome

Ultimately, the commissioning cantons and the Confederation decide on the service. But  passengers can still help shape the timetable. Every May, customers are invited to provide feedback on the timetable and suggest changes they’d like to see. They can submit their input directly to the cantons on the website www.fahrplanentwurf.ch. “This input is collected by the cantons and forwarded to us for review,” explains Christen. “But we also receive feedback directly from passengers. Other suggested improvements are received internally from within the company and from resource planning, with the goal of implementing small measures to improve the timetable without incurring major costs.”

Three factors are crucial

Not all requests can be implemented. When creating the timetable, there are three crucial factors: rolling stock, infrastructure and personnel. Christen explains it as follows: “You can’t expand the timetable if no rolling stock or additional locomotive personnel are available. It also can’t work if the infrastructure isn’t appropriately developed. That means expansion of the timetable has to be planned years before implementation.”

Lucerne and Interlaken set the pace

Another requirement for the timetable is that it must be efficient and cost-effective, for example, by avoiding unproductive downtimes and dead runs.  The timetable is set by the stations with onward connections in Lucerne and Interlaken Ost. “To ensure an optimal timetable at both of these stations, we have to pay attention to the connections,” says Christen. “Because Lucerne’s connections from the different directions are at different times, it’s difficult, or even impossible, to provide optimal connections for all major destinations.”  That’s why there’ll never be a perfect timetable. But we can work together to create continuous improvements that make travelling by train better.

The timetable year

At the beginning of the year, Zentralbahn collects and prioritizes inputs for the timetable and makes suggestions on possible changes to the (commissioning) cantons. In the spring, the cantons communicate which adjustments they would like to implement immediately and for which ones options can be made available. By the end of June, the timetable must be approved by the commissioning parties. SBB makes the adjustments to the Switzerland-wide timetable system. The provisional timetables are checked in August and the train equipment is made available. The changes must be implemented by the beginning of September. The timetable data is transferred to the different systems. The Zentralbahn pocket timetable comes into effect in mid-October. The timetable is delivered to the Travel Centres for display in mid-November. In November, each station creates, prints and displays the departure timetables. The new timetable comes into force in mid-December.

Paper edition of the “hin und weg” magazine – also available as a subscription.

This is an article from the “hin und weg” magazine. You can find the printed version at the train stations in Engelberg, Sarnen, Stans and Meiringen, in all Travel Centres, as well as on trains. We will be happy to send the magazine to your home. Send an e-mail to hello@zentralbahn.ch with the subject “Subscribe to the hin und weg magazine” and include your postal address in the body text of the message.