Electronics Before Concrete, not Instead of Concrete

The Swiss slogan electronics before concrete, and related slogans like run trains as fast as necessary, not as fast as possible, is a reminder not to waste money. However, I worry that it can be read as an argument against spending money in general. For many years now, Cap’n Transit has complained that this slogan is used to oppose bad transit like the Gateway Tunnel and if the money is not spent on public transportation then it may be spent on other things. But in reality, the Swiss slogans, all emphasizing cost minimization, must be reconciled with the fact that Switzerland builds a lot of concrete, including extensive regional rail tunneling in Zurich and intercity rail tunneling. Electronics precedes concrete, but does not always substitute for it; it’s better to think of these planning maxims as a way to do more with a fixed amount of money, and not as a way to do the same amount of project with less money.

The extent of tunneling in Switzerland

Here is a list of tunnels built in Switzerland since the 1980s, when its modern program of integrated timetable-infrastructure-rolling stock investment began:

This is not a small program. Zurich and Geneva are not large cities, and yet they’ve build regional rail trunk tunnels – and Zurich has built two, the most of any German-speaking country, since Berlin and Hamburg only have one of their trunk lines each in tunnel, the rest running above ground. The Mattstetten-Rothrist line likewise does not run at high speed, topping at 200 km/h, because doing so would raise the cost of rolling stock acquisition without benefiting the national integrated timetable – but it was an extensive undertaking for how small Switzerland is. Per capita, Switzerland has built far more intercity rail tunnels by length than France, and may even be ahead of Germany and Italy – and that’s without taking into account the freight base tunnels.

The issue of passenger experience

It’s best to think of organization-before-electronics-before-concrete as a maxim for optimizing user experience more than anything. The system’s passengers would prefer to avoid having to loiter 20 minutes at every connection; this is why one designs timed transfers, and not any attempt to keep the budget down. The Bahn 2000 investments were made in an environment of limited money, but money is always limited – there’s plenty of austerity at the local level in the US too, it just ends up canceling or curtailing useful projects while bad ones keep going on.

In Europe, Switzerland has the highest modal split for rail measured in passenger-km, 19.3%, as of 2018; in 2019, this amounted to 2,338 km per person. The importance of rail is more than this – commuters who use trains tend to travel by train shorter than commuters who use cars drive, since they make routine errand trips on foot at short distance, so the passenger-km modal split is best viewed as an approximation of the importance of intercity rail. Europe’s #2 and #3 are Austria (12.9%) and the Netherlands (11.2%), and both countries have their own integrated intercity rail networks. One does not get to scratch 20% with a design paradigm that is solely about minimizing costs. Switzerland also has low construction costs, but Spain has even lower construction costs and it wishes it had Switzerland’s intensity of rail usage.

Optimizing organization and electronics…

A country or region whose network is a mesh of lines, like Switzerland or the Netherlands, had better adopt the integrated timed transfer concept, to ensure people can get from anywhere to anywhere without undue waiting for a connecting train and without waiting for many hours for a direct train. This includes organizational reforms in the likely case there are overlapping jurisdictions with separate bus, urban rail, and intercity rail networks. Fares should be integrated so as to be mode-neutral and offer free transfers throughout the system, and schedules should be designed to maximize connectivity.

This should include targeted investments in systems and reliability. Some of these should be systemwide, like electrification and level boarding, but sometimes this means building something at a particular delay-prone location, such as a long single-track segment or a railway junction. In all cases, it should be in the context of relentlessly optimizing operations and systems in order to minimize costs, ensure trains spend the maximum amount of time running in revenue service and the minimum amount of time sitting at a yard collecting dust, reduce the required schedule padding, etc.

…leads to concrete

Systemwide optimization invariably shows seams in the system. When Switzerland designed the Bahn 2000 network, there was extensive optimization of everything, but at the end of the day, Zurich-Bern was going to be more than an hour, which would not fit any hourly clockface schedule. Thus the Mattstetten-Rohrist line was born, not out of desire to run trains as fast as possible, but because it was necessary for the trains to run at 200 km/h most of the way between Olten and Bern to fit in an hourly takt.

The same is true of speed and capacity improvements. A faster, more reliable system attracts more passengers, and soon enough, a line designed around a train every 15 minutes fills up and requires a train every 10 minutes, 7.5 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 4 minutes. An optimized system that minimizes the need for urban tunneling soon generates so much ridership that the tunnels it aimed to avoid become valuable additions to the network.

The Munich S-Bahn, for example, was built around this kind of optimization, inventing many of the principles of coordinated planning in the process. It had a clockface schedule early, and was (I believe) the first system in the world designed around a regionwide takt. It was built to share tracks with intercity and freight trains on outer branches rather than on purely dedicated tracks as in the older Berlin and Hamburg systems, and some of its outermost portions are on single-track. It uses very short signaling blocks to fit 30 trains per hour through the central tunnel in each direction. And now it is so popular it needs a second tunnel, which it is building at very high cost; area activists invoked the organization before electronics before concrete principle to argue against it and in favor of a cheaper solution avoiding city center, but at the end of the day, Munich already optimized organization and electronics, and now is the time for concrete, and even if costs are higher than they should be by a factor of 2-3, the line is worth it.

Electronics before concrete, not instead of concrete

Switzerland is not going to build a French-style national high-speed rail network anytime soon. It has no reason to – at the distances typical of such a small country, the benefits of running at 300 km/h are not large. But this does not mean its rail network only uses legacy lines – on the contrary, it actively builds bypasses and new tunnels. Right now there are plans for an S-Bahn tunnel in Basel, and for an express tunnel from Zurich to Winterthur that was removed from Bahn 2000. The same is true of other European countries that are at or near the frontier of passenger rail technology. Even the Deutschlandtakt plan, compromised as it is by fiscal austerity, by high construction costs, by a pro-car transport minister, and by NIMBYs, includes a fair amount of new high-speed rail, including for example a mostly fast path from Berlin to Frankfurt.

When you plan your rail network well, you encourage more people to use it. When you optimize the schedules, fare integration, transfer experience, and equipment, you end up producing a system that will, in nearly every case, attract considerable numbers of riders. Concrete is the next step: build those S-Bahn tunnels, those express bypasses, those grade separations, those high-speed lines. Work on organization first, and when that is good enough, build electronics, and once you have both, build concrete to make maximum use of what you have.


  1. Herbert

    S21 is arguably Berlin’s second S-Bahn tunnel… And it’s also north-south.

    While Munich’s second trunk S-Bahn is undoubtedly a good idea, Nuremberg S-Bahn doesn’t even have a proper first trunk. There’s only one S-Bahn track from Nuremberg to Fürth and the S-Bahn has to share tracks between Fürth and Erlangen – the latter a stretch that’s busy in both directions.

    Looking at a map, Munich seems to lack both an S-Bahn north-south trunk and a Ringbahn. I don’t know what good they’d do in reality, but their absence is striking. Some opponents of the second trunk line say that the choke points exist in part because journeys that neither originate nor terminate at central station(s) are forced there by the way the network is laid out. Whether that’s true or not for Munich, one of the strengths of the Berlin system certainly is avoiding a single choke point and routing many trips around city center that don’t have to go to city center. Nuremberg main station for example is more of a choke point than it has to be…

    • Alon Levy

      The Nazi-era plans for a Munich S-Bahn called for three trunks, but my understanding is that the U-Bahn was built along two of them so only one S-Bahn trunk was needed.

      • Herbert

        Iirc some Nazi era tunneling intended for an S-Bahn was later used for the U-Bahn.

        But arguably the U5 between Hauptbahnhof and Alexanderplatz in Berlin “doubles” the Stadtbahn.

        It’s certainly a bit weird to “force” north south trips through an east west trunk, especially since Munich doesn’t really have settlement patterns where one direction dominates or which are (much) constrained by bodies of water or the like. The Isar certainly plays much less of a role in Munich’s urban geography than Spree and Havel in Berlin, let alone the Elbe in Hamburg or Dresden

      • Nilo

        Seems to me like the U-Bahn has taken all the good North South tunnel RoWs.

        Anyways Munich currently pushes 800k people a day through the first tunnel. If it manages to get to 1.6 with the second I’d be surprised. There just aren’t enough people in the metro area to ride three cross city tunnels a ton.

        • Herbert

          Landkreis Munich has 350 000 inhabitants. Munich proper has one and a half million. And that’s not even counting places served by the S-Bahn that aren’t part of either.

          The airport for example is north of the city (and a 45 minute slog away) while the alps are to the south. The S-Bahn Network is actually decently spider web shaped until it gets near downtown Munich, where everything is forced into a single trunk. There’s a distinct lack of radial connections and the wisdom of building a second trunk that doesn’t connect a single place that was previously unconnected is somewhat dubious…

  2. plaws0

    “This includes organizational reforms in the likely case there are overlapping jurisdictions with separate bus, urban rail, and intercity rail networks. Fares should be integrated so as to be mode-neutral and offer free transfers throughout the system, and schedules should be designed to maximize connectivity.”

    Lol! In the USA, even organizations that are a unified jurisdiction can’t do this. Of course some, like Chicago’s RTA and NYC’s MTA are internally balkanized and only have a thin veneer of unification.

  3. Max Wyss

    A little bit of nitpicking:
    • The tunnel is called Hirschengraben-Tunnel (because it is more or less below the Hirschengraben street).
    • A month ago, another tunnel became operational: Eppenberg tunnel near Aarau. This created a pseudo 4-track between Zürich and Olten (pseudo because of a shorter and a longer double track lines apart from each other between Killwangen and Rupperswil; the shorter is also based on a tunnel). Anyway, the Eppenberg tunnel increases capacity and provides stabilisation of the timetable.
    • I guess the alpine tunnels are not in the scope of the article
    • The mentioned Brüttener Tunnel helps creating a pseudo 4-track between Zürich and Winterthur, one of the busiest stretches of the network.
    • Another tunnel in the Zürich area is the Zimmerberg Base Tunnel between Zürich and Thalwil, relieving the “old” line from express and freight operation.
    • And not to forget the tunnel under the River Sihl bringing the SZU to the Hauptbahnhof…

    More comments:
    • It is not just tunnelling which SBB does to improve stability, but also grade separating junctions. Now, where organisation comes to play is in the example of the 4-track between Zürich HB and Killwangen-Spreitenbach. Leaving Zürich, the “express” double track and the “local” double track are parallel (s-s-f-f). But in Killwangen, f-s-s-f is needed. Normally, trains run on the left hand track. But in order to reduce the Concrete, they run the express tracks on the right hand. With this, only one viaduct is needed to change the configuration (otherwise, it would have been way more complicated to grade separate). Most double track lines are now “banalisiert”, meaning that either track can be operated in either direction.
    • Organisation before Electronics before Concrete is valid for existing infrastructure. For new builds, Organisation and Electronics can help to reduce Concrete (see above, or using tilting trains (for example for the current 4:00 and coming 3:30 schedules between Zürich and München))
    • Because of the political structures in Switzerland, vanity projects of a single individual have it very difficult; it requires political consent, and that can be difficult to be achieved. This also shows that pretty much none of the infrastructure buildings (tunnels, bridges, etc. are named after a person).
    • Zürich is a hilly city; with the exception of the Limmat valley, rail lines in no other direction could be built without tunnels (not quite true, the SZU had no tunnel until it got extended to Hauptbahnhof).
    • The main reason for the public transit success in Switzerland is the mostly seamless integration of the various operation. In nodes, regional or local buses make quick timed connections, and in many places there is also a fare integration. This justified the Concrete.

    • Sascha Claus

      Tunnels or bridges named for a person? A living person? Does this exist *anywhere* in the Western world outside of the Union Soviétique d’Amérique (USA)?

      • Henry

        QE II has a bridge in London, and I doubt that’s the only thing named after her in Britain, not to mention the rest of the world. Charles de Gaulle had a bridge in Montreal named after him while alive.

        In the US these kinds of renamings are basically super easy ways to make a small, vocal bit of the electorate happy, and the naming tends to not stick. At least in NYC, which has a lot of these, the only after-the-fact namings I’ve known people to actually use is the Jackie Robinson, and that’s because “Interboro” isn’t a particularly great name. Queensboro, Queens-Midtown, Triboro, and Tappan Zee are all still the common parlance at least among people I know.

          • Henry

            It’s not a tunnel or a bridge, and he was dead when the renaming happened, so it doesn’t count for the purposes of that question.

          • Herbert

            Christiano Ronaldo has an airport named after him….

            As does famed aviophobiker Vaclav Havel…. To be fair, “Franz Kafka Airport” would probably fit even less 😛

      • michaelrjames

        All of the pedestrian bridges of Paris are named after people:
        Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor
        Passerelle Debilly
        [Pont des Arts]
        Pont St Louis
        Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir

        Except the Pont des Arts which, despite the name is strictly pedestrian, as is the Pont St Louis linking the two islands.
        Paris also has a Pont Charles-de-Gaulle, a Pont Alexandre III, Pont Louis-Philippe, Pont de Sully, Pont Marie, Pont Mirabeau.
        Maybe Pont St Michel should be included.

          • michaelrjames

            @df1982: “Naming San Jose station after Rod Diridon was a bit much though.”

            Not at all. Rewarding/stroking the egos of American politicians who support transit is a good thing. A bit of pre-emptive encouragement (aka Pavlovian conditioning) is warranted. Those Californians missed a trick in the last 4 years: they should have named it the Donald J Trump High Speed Railway. (or maybe DJT Warp Speed Railway).
            In these cases the reverse rule could apply: a public vote on whether the name survives the person …

          • Alon Levy

            The problem is that Diridon sabotaged transit by insisting on turning it into San Jose’s ego boost. The French consultancy SETEC proposed an optimal alignment that would serve all city pairs faster than the chosen alternative except LA-SJ, and trips from the Bay Area to Sacramento would be especially sped up; Diridon dismissed the idea on “why should I go north to go south?” grounds. Just as Switzerland’s electronics-before-concrete maxim has given it an excellent rail network, Diridon’s concrete-instead-of-anything mentality gave California a bad high-speed rail plan.

          • adirondacker12800

            There are considerations other than the shortest route. “optimal” is very subjective. Other people had other ideas. That may actually be built.

          • michaelrjames

            @Adriondacker: “That may actually be built.”

            That is the critical thing.
            It seemed to me (as casual observer) that the differences between the plans is not as great as all the blind fury devoted to it. If they could build HSR at European costs, they could build both; and maybe eventually they might. The logic behind having most trains, with by far the most pax, bound for SF passing thru SJ seems fairy solid, notwithstanding the considerable population on the other side of the bay. And now those east-bay pax can use BART to access CaHSR at SJ:-) The leg that does seem purely political and nominal is to Sacramento; will it really have much in the way of pax?

          • Herbert

            San Jose is the tenth biggest city in the U.S.

            Bigger in fact than San Francisco. So it should get at least some consideration…

          • Eric2

            The East Bay is bigger than San Jose though. If you put San Jose on the main line, the East Bay gets no service whatsoever.

          • michaelrjames

            @Eric2: “The East Bay is bigger than San Jose though.”

            It is mostly sprawled over a big area. The west bay is sprawled too but has obvious stops for a HSR to/from LA: SJ, SFX (arguably) and SF, and probably for more people likely to travel on fast train to LA. A HSR train can’t make many stops.
            Think about big cities served by HSR. Paris is a bigger catchment population than the Bay Area and most of it (10 of its 12 million) live out of the centre and therefore have to travel into the centre to catch a TGV. Only now, almost 40 years after service began are they building a few TGV stations in the banlieu though St Denis may be the only serious one. I’m not including the TGV station Interconnexion Est at CDG airport as it bypasses Paris altogether. As I said, BART, like Paris’ RER, allows all those East Bayesians to get to the HSR stations (at SJ, SF and Oakland if that happens; + shuttles to SFX?).

          • Herbert

            Didn’t we have a debate here recently about Leipzig/Halle and how you serve the / ?

            This seems related

    • wiesmann

      It’s worth mentioning that only half of the Zimmerberg Base Tunnel was built, the second half is slated for 2030-2035. The tunnel is considered part of the Zürich – Milan infrastructure.

      • Max Wyss

        The connecting stub is built, indeed.

        However, the Zimmerberg base tunnel Phase II is secondary for the main reason of the NEAT: getting (transit) trucks off the roads. It would, however relieve the current two single track tunnels between Horgen and the Canton of Zug.

        • Herbert

          Similarly The Lötschberg Base Tunnel was only built a bit more than half (it is single track along two thirds of its lengths and single bore along a third). Apparently the problem is that south of the Lötschberg the Italian railroad lines are too steep so the use is a bit questionable at the moment….

          • Max Wyss

            The Lötschberg Base Tunnel is a case for itself. It actually got into the NEAT project, to appease some cantons, which otherwise might have not agreed to the main line. And when money got scarcer, some idiot politicians came to that phantastic idea to not complete the tunnel as a whole, but leave parts single-tracked, crippling its capacity by two thirds. Nevertheless, this tunnel caused a surge in passenger services, reducing freight paths even more.

            The Simplon grade is indeed pretty steep, so that there would not be a complete low grade route. However, the main freight streams are North-South, meaning that the trains going up the steeper grades are predominantly empties.

          • Herbert

            If one direction is predominately empty, there is ceteris paribus incentive to create demand. That’s one of the reasons why so much plastic waste used to be exported to China – the boats would’ve been empty otherwise.

            Also, is there no need for extra breaking down a steep grade?

            And what would need to be done to “fix” the grade? Hopefully not a redo of the Simplon tunnel, because that, to me, seems out of the question.

          • Max Wyss

            The only thing to “fix” the Simplon grade would be lengthen it. There is no northern slope towards the Simplon tunnel. On the Brig side, it feels actually like a base tunnel. The grade is essentially between Iselle and Domodossola.

            The cars used are rather specialised, and can not just so be used for other cargo (such as the cars for scrap metal can not be used to transport steel coils and vv).

            There are not that many break downs :). There are actually heavy trains going over the Lötschberg pass. Those trains get one or two Re465 as pushers, and then, from Goppenstein to Domodossola, they act as brakers. A software update some years ago tweaked their regenerative braking system so that it can produce the same number of kN for braking as for traction. So, those trains can be handled with regenerative braking and (almost) no mechanical brakes.

    • Alon Levy

      I updated Hirschenberg to Hirschengraben, thanks for the catch.

      I didn’t include Zimmerberg because I don’t think S-Bahn trains even use it? It’s for freight and intercity trains, I think?

      • wiesmann

        One of the selling points on the Zimmerberg is to allow more S-Bahn on the Albis axis, certainly by liberating capacity on the existing tracks, but also by avoiding contention and crossings in Thalwil, but I think I read somewhere that some express S-bahn would run through there.

      • Max Wyss

        The current Zimmerbergtunnel (Phase I) has intercity and freight (essentially anything not stopping at Enge), relieving capacity on the old line. The Phase II creates capacity for the Zürich – Zug and beyond axis, the tunnel will be used by trains not serving Enge and Thalwil, but that frees up the old line via Sihlbrugg.

  4. df1982

    An excellent post. I’ve been thinking a little bit about how Swiss timetabling principles could apply to the greater Sydney area (roughly between Newcastle and Canberra). It has a similar population to Switzerland, spread across a similar area. It’s true that Sydney is inordinately big (5m out of a total of 7m) and the population densities are much lower, but there are still useful intercity pairs like Sydney-Newcastle (500k, 150km away), Sydney-Canberra (500k, 300km away) and even Sydney-Central Coast and Sydney-Wollongong (both 300k, about 80km away; the Central Coast is on the way to Newcastle), which at present are inadequately served by any mode of transport. The big advantage of a Taktfahrplan here would less be in intercity connections (since everything gravitates around Sydney), but more in interchanges from regional to intercity services (as well as feeder buses for the intercity trains), allowing for faster access to the core centres for the entire region. And acceptable transit times could be achieved with a few strategic bypasses around some particularly slow and winding stretches (albeit the terrain means a lot of these would have to be bridge-and-tunnel lines).

    But where I really scratch my head is around peak. I know you advocate a 1:1 peak-base ratio, but Sydney has such high peak loads that even maxing out the Organisation and the Elektronik, you would still be pushing the upper limits of what is reliably possible, and the Beton needed to fix it would run into the tens of billions of dollars. You could just about maintain reliability over the couple of hours of peak, but trying to do so over 16 hours of daytime service would I imagine see it fall apart, even with Swiss levels of punctuality. On the other hand having a 2:1 peak-base ratio would strike me as too extreme, and leave frequencies too low outside of peak.

    So how do you manage something like a 1.5:1 peak-base ratio? The most natural solution would be to squash the hourly timetable down to 40min, at the expense of slightly slower express services, but then you ruin the timetable nodes during peak hours. The German approach seems to be to throw a few extra peak services in the timetable gaps, but this is also a problem, since it would lead to uneven headways at the time precisely when this would be likely to create delays. The Swiss solution of extending trains would also not be an option, since they would run all day at full-length anyway (given how low the marginal cost of doing this is).

    I imagine this is also a problem in other cities, e.g. London’s commuter railways, so I wonder what your thoughts are on this matter.

    • Max Wyss

      Just, how the ZVV deals with peak:

      1. Train length (most important): Until the 6-car KISSes came, the standard S-Bahn train was a bi-level, 100 m long. This is pretty much enough for the base service during the day. However, stations are set to handle 300 m long trains. So, instead of running 1 unit, run 3 in MU (with the KISSes, run 2 in MU instead of 1), again 300 m long train. This allows to double to triple the capacity.
      2. The base 30 minutes Takt allows usually densification to 15 minutes (sometimes a little bit off-beat, depending on the line). So, you have a peak-only service at the 15-minutes (which eventually grows into a full service)
      3. A few additional services with suitable, but mostly depreciated rolling stock (In Zürich, these are train sets composed of the bi-levels from the first generation (built in the early 1990s), freed up by the low-floor replacements in the regular train sets, hauled refurbished Class Re 420 locomotives from the 1970s (aka LION). These trains do have their specific “non-takt” schedules, sometimes running partly express, and may also connect places normally not connected in the base schedule. With this, they created 13 train sets, compared to the approximately 100 sets with “regular” stock.

      So, the primary dealing with peak is longer trains. This requires a rather big uniform fleet of “base sets”, which can be coupled/uncoupled within a minute. It also means that the depots are not in the center, but peripheral (that’s why the main maintenance center for the S-Bahn trains is in Winterthur and not in Zürich).

      • Sascha Claus

        This requires a rather big uniform fleet of “base sets”, which can be coupled/uncoupled within a minute.

        You might get away with separate fleets of base sets with are incompatible across fleets, if the fleets don’t need to be coupled this way, e. g. if you split the fleets by trunk lines. Or you have a diverse fleet of base sets with compatible couplers.
        Lengthening trains instead of running more trains has the advantage that you don’t need more capacity; useful if you have a single-track line or your trunk is saturated.

        • Max Wyss

          Actually, the Zürich S-Bahn has 3 fleets which can not be operationally coupled:

          • DPZ : Doppelstock-Pendelzug, built by SLM/ABB and Schindler Waggons, consisting of a Class 450 locomotive, a low-floor car (later, built by Siemens/Bombardier), a 1st/2nd class car and a cab car; 115 trains, 100 m long.
          • DTZ : Doppelstock-Triebzug, built by Siemens, Class 514, consisting of 4 cars, where the end cars are motorised; 61 trains, 100 m long
          • KISS : built by Stadler Rail, Class 511, consisting of 6 cars, where the end cars are motorised; 56 trains for S-Bahn Zürich (there are 13 6-car, and 24 4-car trains in addition, used for RE and Regional trains outside of the ZVV)

          It was planned to have the DPZ and DTZ being interoperable, but these attempts failed (I personally saw a mixed train once). So, the three fleets are normally assigned to specific S-Bahn lines. However, it is always possible to encounter a DPZ set instead of a DTZ or a KISS.

          These 232 trains serve a region with approximately 1.8 million inhabitants…

          • Herbert

            Fleet homogeneity is desirable for numerous reasons, among them getting bigger rebates on larger orders and not having to (re)train staff on different models(cf. Aviation)

          • Max Wyss

            @Herbert: Just note that there is about a decade between those three fleets. After such a long time, it is (for technical and legal reasons) not necessarily possible to “just order more”.

            FWIW, the next generation rolling stock for the Zürich S-Bahn will most likely be single level, multiple doors, high capacity, short distance trains. They want to create an “inner network” with frequent and fast services.

      • df1982

        Thanks for this informative response. I guess the best strategy, then, (in lieu of longer trains at peak) is to run extra services outside of the Takt during peak hour, if they can be squeezed into the timetable.

        Another question: should fares on intercity trains within a fare zone be integrated with the rest of the transit system? Intercity trains are generally the only public transport exempt from the Verkehrsverbünde in Germany, and I think Switzerland too (with the exception of some airport connections), but is this a good or bad thing? I would lean against it, since integrated fares would prevent high-yield ticket pricing on intercity trains, and there is the danger of overcrowding by short-range commuters on trains that aren’t designed to take large numbers of standing passengers (and probably shouldn’t be, given the main task of intercity trains is to service journeys of several hours, where an individual seat is a passenger expectation).

        That said, one thing Germany could do is apply the City+ supplement (allowing public transport in the connecting cities) to all intercity tickets, not just the full fare flexi tickets.

        • Max Wyss

          Switzerland makes no difference fare-wise between Intercity and Regional trains. Verbund-tickets are valid on any train covered by the according zones. Well, a long time ago, when they ran ICE-TDs on the Zürich – München ECs, the timetable said “no local passengers between Zürich and St.Gallen (or even Bregenz)”, but it rarely (if at all) got enforced. In the case of Zürich Airport, pretty much every touristy area has some kind of direct connections to the airport. So, there is not that much traffic Airport – Hauptbahnhof –> non-regional (except the Ticino, but that is better served via Malpensa anyway). Besides that, there are frequent S-Bahn connections from the airport, plus the Glatttalbahn also relieves some pressure on local traffic.

          Germany is different; pretty strictly separating “Fernverkehr” (ICE, IC, EC, etc.) and “Regionalverkehr” (RE, IRE, R, S) (main reason is that Fernverkehr has to be self-sustaining, whereas the Länder order and pay for the Regionalverkehr). Fernverkehr tickets are valid on regional trains if on the same lines, but not vice-versa, and unless specifically indicated, they are not valid Verbund-tickets.

          It is my opinion, but yield management (and inclusive tickets) are a sign of bad service. If you have one or two trains per day, you may want yield management. But if you have a decent service (for example hourly), you don’t need it. Making reservations available is OK, but mandatory only in very special cases. If overcrowding occurs systematically, increase capacity, and don’t cap the number of passengers you transport (I am looking at you, DB).

          • Herbert

            It is cheaper to produce extra off peak frequency than peak frequency. So why should people not pay more for the service at the peak?

            By the way, a handful of IC trains are “ordered” by the states and thus open to regional tickets including Verbund. They might not exist if not ordered…

          • df1982

            So Switzerland has no yield management on its intercity trains?

            I would have thought it would be useful not for the 1-2 trains per day type services (which would be largely impervious to yield), but precisely for trains with hourly or better frequency, since you can coax people out of travelling in peak-demand times if they don’t have to, thereby reducing the peak-base ratio on the demand side. It also has the advantage of providing cheap travel for those who book ahead or are flexible with their journey times, while maximising revenue from those who need and can afford to travel in peak.

            The downside is it’s not customer friendly, since you stress out about missing the train you’ve booked for, and the ones who really lose out are poorer travellers who have last-minute emergencies involving peak travel.

          • Herbert

            Switzerland doesn’t really have (domestic) intercity trains. There is virtually no point to point route in Switzerland at or above the four hour mark…

            But if I am not entirely mistaken, there are some tentative attempts to introduce “early bird fares” which is how yield management was introduced in Germany….

          • Alon Levy

            Why are sub-4 hour trips not intercity? The Tokaido Shinkansen is 2:25, most of the workhorse TGVs are 3:30 or less, Berlin-Hamburg (which I think is the busiest city pair in Germany?) is 1:30…

          • Yom Sen

            On a Geneva – St-Gallen IC train, a large part (majority?) of passengers travel from one stop to the next one for distances between 30km (like Bern-Fribourg) and 120km (like Bern-Zürich), very few go all the way from Geneva to St-Gallen or even from Geneva to Zürich. There are stops in 9 different cities in just 370km. So you can’t really compare to 280km non-stop Berlin-Hamburg IC trains.
            Main competitor is car which offers total flexibility on time of departure with no impact on price. Since there is no high speed line, car is generally slightly faster door to door so train users are less likely to accept the kind of constraints you have on high speed trains like compulsory booking and variable price and will value more flexibility.
            However, SBB has some yield management with “supersaver tickets” that can be bought only via internet for a specific train and can’t be exchanged, similar to sparpreise in Germany I think.

          • Herbert

            Because aside from tunnels no train in Switzerland goes faster than 200km/h and most actually go significantly slower

          • Max Wyss

            @Herbert: Base service trains are productive 14 to 20 hours a day. As fixed cost (depreciation) is a big part of the operation cost, they can “earn” more, compared to peak service trains which are productive maybe for 4 hours a day. Depreciation is way bigger than “wear and tear”, so the cost per operation hour are way higher. Include staff, and you get the same effect.

            A little bit of extra trains for peak may have some advantages, if their diagrams are well set up. The limited number of operation hour during day time can be used light maintenance. So, a standard diagram could include a couple of days peak operation and light maintenance, which costs less during the day than during the night.

          • Max Wyss

            @df1982: Correct, Switzerland does not have yield management. As stated before, the service patterns are too dense for justifying the overhead yield management involves. And it is one of the very important messages: “public transportation means freedom”. OK, there is another aspect. Switzerland has a very high percentage of General Pass (Generalabonnement) users. These users have already paid quite a bit of money for their year of transportation. Not letting them on the trains because of yield management would be definitely not well accepted.

            It is, however, possible to reserve a seat on IC-level trains, and (I think) also IR. For groups, it is mandatory, and there are sometimes specials, run just for groups (imagine nice days before the summer holidays for school trips). Way back, when I was a “general”, I never made a domestic reservation (international, yes, but not within Switzerland).

            There are special trains (or seats), where reservations are mandatory, such as in the lounges of the “Super Panoramic Express” sets on the MOB; they just have 8 of those premium seats.

            And, as @Yom Sen mentioned, there are some “Saver” tickets, which are tied to a specific train, and available only via the SBB Ticket app. However, the number of these tickets is limited, and not available on the very busiest trains.

          • Max Wyss

            @Yom Sen: It is indeed true that there are not so many travellers doing Genève – Zürich (or beyond). But still, if you are one of that, you have a train every 30 minutes; alterning one via Bern and one via Neuchâtel – Biel. The standard ticket is valid on both routes. So, you just take the next train available (unless you are one of those poor souls getting sea sick on a tilting train; then you will wait for the next one via Bern).

            Competition by cars: there are some correspondences where public transportation is faster than car (even from door to door). This is mainly the case if the Zürich – Bern trunk route is involved. (anecdotal: One of the former Transportation Ministers (Bundesrat), did actually commute between Zürich and Bern; he would have the right of an official government car, but he preferred to do so by train, and they say that more than often one did see him sit on the stair to the upper level of the rail car; when asked why so, he said “I leave my seat for a paying customer”…)

          • Herbert

            To add frequency during the peak (when by definition everything that can run will) you may have to add capacity to the infrastructure, you certainly have to add rolling stock and you may have to add staff.

            Running a train at the off peak can be as simple as running a train that would otherwise sit idle. Yield management is nothing more than nudging those whose travel is not fixed in time towards trains with less demand while letting people who have to use the trains that are more expensive to run (because they are at the peak) pay for the premium…

            At any rate, inflation adjusted, yield managed fares are lower than the pre yield management fares were in Germany…

          • df1982

            @Max. I’m agnostic about yield management, but a couple of things you said I don’t get. First, why should the density of services affect it? I don’t think the overhead to implement it is that high, since passengers buy tickets from the website or TVMs, and DB seems to manage this even on relatively high frequency intercity routes.

            Second, I don’t see why yield management is incompatible with a subscription pass. Again, DB has the Bahncard 100 pass which functions the same way: it gives you the right to be on any train, even those with high-yield ticketing (the exceptions would be things like sleeping cars in night trains, not that DB has many of these left). A reservation for travel is optional, but the ICE trains also have a group of seats set aside for Bahncard holders for those who don’t want to make a reservation (this worked pretty well for me on a Bahncard 50, such that even on a packed train I didn’t feel the need to reserve a seat). I agree with Herbert that yield management has generally led to lower fares in Germany. If you book even a week or so ahead you can find substantially lower fares than the flexi-fare (except on Fridays and other peak times). The occasions when your plans change and you miss a train only make a small dent in these savings.

            The downside, as I said before, is the stress of being tied to a particular train, and this is I think the main argument in favour of non-yield flexi tickets. It probably works well in Switzerland because the generally wealthy population means there’s less price pressure on demand, and the compact size of the country also means that even intercity trips are relatively short and therefore cheap for the operator to provide. Do you know, by any chance, whether SBB breaks even financially on ticketing revenue?

          • michaelrjames

            @df1982: “I agree with Herbert that yield management has generally led to lower fares in Germany.”

            Is there any convincing evidence for cause and effect for that? It’s not what Wiki suggests:

            Despite optimizing revenue in theory, introduction of yield management does not always achieve this in practice because of corporate image problems. In 2002, Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway company, experimented with yield management for frequent loyalty card passengers.[15] The fixed pricing model that had existed for decades was replaced with a more demand-responsive pricing model, but this reform proved highly unpopular with passengers, leading to widespread protests and a decline in passenger numbers.[16][17]

            That Wiki article talks about yield management being a product of the 90s airfare wars, but actually British Rail were practising it decades before, and it got worse in the 80s, coinciding with you-know-who and -what. The only Brits who didn’t come to hate it were either rich or not paying for their ticket, so of course in the UK there was a class aspect too. I believe it is an ethical issue when it comes to public facilities like railways or transit. Our taxes and those of workers over long periods built these things and one gets enraged when one feels someone with no intrinsic right is restricting one’s ability to use the public resource. In the case of BR it was usually the case that it was to satisfy austerity minded managements and governments none of whom built the resource but were merely its temporary guardians, increasingly perceived as incompetent. It was because management had essentially given up on trying to satisfy growing demand–eg. by running faster trains, more trains or deploying duplex trains–but merely ‘manage’ it by squeezing passengers (increasingly forced to be called ‘customers’ by political powers) until the pips squeaked. The conditions for BR tickets became infamously labyrinthine plus absurdities like commuters who pay >£3000 for season tickets forced to stand for hour-long journeys; or getting heavily fined for sitting in first class when no other seats were available. Of course BR tightened rules of travel such that you were deemed to have agreed with their ever-restrictive conditions (no right to a seat under any condition unless you paid for First).

            It’s one thing for private airlines or hotels etc to use it to maximise their profits, we’ll tolerate it and mostly there is competitive choice. That was a factor why Branson’s Virgin Atlantic became so popular back then, winning customers from BA who in the great British tradition took their customers and quasi-monopoly for granted. But it’s not ok for publicly funded transit–or indeed university courses, and what next, public healthcare, access to corona vaccines?

          • michaelrjames

            @Herbert: “The 2002 DB fare system is not the 2020 DB fare system…”

            I guessed that, but has it got more relaxed or more punitive? My guess is the former, probably in response to that popular revolt, which would explain why the fares have reduced on average; ie. the opposite conclusion to the one proposed by df1982 …
            Of course rail and transit fares in the UK (for at least 50 years) have been at least double that of most EU countries.

          • michaelrjames

            @Herbert: “What do you mean by “relaxed” and “punitive”?”

            In the UK the ticket prices can be gob-smackingly punitive .. unless you buy 3 months in advance and travel outside peak etc etc. I once had to travel at short notice from London to York (which in Australian terms or even French terms, is just up the road a bit from London) and it cost a fortune, something like £600! I remember at the time thinking I could have flown return to Australia for that sum or less. And it wasn’t the most expensive ticket because I was notionally travelling with an architect contracted by WT to build/renovate the building holding our new labs (we were inspecting labs in York U done by a particular company) and he was put out when we met at the London station because I wasn’t travelling First Class, and he was (the ‘norme’ when someone else was paying for the professional classes). He grumbled about having to sit with me and the deplorables so we could discuss the issues en route. His ticket may have passed a ton!

            Sooo, after all those complaints and protests about German train prices due to yield management, I was wondering if DB reacted by replacing an apparently punitive pricing system with one more reasonable. The problem with such systems is that once a differential has been introduced then the econocrats and bean-counters will always take it to its limit, testing just how much they can get away with, “until the pips squeak”.

          • Herbert

            The main complaint about the 2002 pricing system was that it was “too complicated”. As evidenced by a lot of comedy produced at the time making stuff up “this ticket is only valid in the interregional regional trains on Thursdays following working Sundays” or similar nonsense.

            The current system is comparatively straightforward, especially since with the end of the IR (much bemoaned as it is by some) even dunces know the difference between regional and long distance trains and the yield managed prices only apply for the latter. (Some stuff like Länder Tickets only apply after 9:00 AM on weekdays, but that’s a fairly minor thing). So no matter how high the Flexpreis might get, you can always buy a Quer durchs Land Ticket for the regional trains… It’ll just take a lot longer

          • Max Wyss

            @Herbert: Maybe an explication: to me “yield managed fares” means “inclusive fares”, which contain transportation, and reservation, and it is not possible to separate that (with regular tickets). All fare categories have their contingent, and the fares are always tied to a single train.

            So, if you have lousy service, meaning two or three trains per day, it is kind of acceptable, but if you have hourly intervals or better, things get just too complicated. Of course, it is acceptable to have a few “Supersparpreis” tickets available, but so be it.

            You may note that in Switzerland, many people have the equivalent to a Bahncard 100 (called Generalabonnement), which is — for what it covers — is very reasonably priced, and they have special prices for seniors, and students (and even children, as part of a family plan… and strangely, also for dogs). There are monthly/annual passes for specific lines, but their pricing is so, that a regular commuting distance beyond some 100 km makes the Generalabonnement a better deal.

            Now, second note, in Switzerland probably more than half of the rest of the people besides the Generalabonnement holders have a “Halbtaxabonnement”, corresponding to the best Bahncard 50 in Germany (there is no limitation to second class). And that’s what makes the rather high fares kind of acceptable. Current price is CHF 185 per year, less if you buy it for three years at the time. It got its big push in popularity some 20 years ago, when it did cost a “Borromini” (the 100 Francs bill at the time, and they did actually use that man’s portrait to promote it). It is also possible to buy day passes, which, again for a reasonable price, give you a Generalabonnement for one day, In fact, this is cheaper than buying a regular ticket for, for example Zürich – Genève and back.

            So, this, and the integrated Takt, even out to the boonies, provide a sense of freedom, which beats any yield management.

            This keeps the fare system very, very simple (at least if you travel beyond the border of a Tarifverbund).

            This whole simplicity makes the integrated public transportation network so well used.

            OK, the size of Switzerland makes it less interesting to separate regional and intercity travel to the extent it is in Germany or France.

            Just a semi-related FWIW: Every now and then, I have some errands to do in France. I live in kind of in the middle of the Ostwind Verkehrsverbund. If I have more time than money (unfortunately too often), the cheapest way is to get a Halfprice 9-Uhr pass for Ostwind, use that to get to Konstanz. There get a Baden-Württemberg Länderticket, and somehow tramp to Kehl, and finally get a day pass for Strasbourg. That is cheaper than an international ticket between my place of residency and even Mulhouse.

          • michaelrjames

            @Max Wyss

            Thanks for that. All this stuff is kind of no brainer but good to see one country puts it into action and the result is as predicted (highest mode share in Europe, 244% of EU-27; satisfied travelling public). But there seems no convincing the econocrats, austerians and beancounters elsewhere.
            What are the finances of Swiss rail? I imagine, with that mode share, it makes an operational profit but what about capital expenses? Is it funded directly by government or added as debt to the rail organisations’ balance sheet? Wiki says SBB makes an income of CHF380m but very little other financial info. But I see it also says it “has large real estate holdings in Switzerland”, so I wonder if that makes a significant contribution to income, or is it dead assets like train stations?

            So, this, and the integrated Takt, even out to the boonies, provide a sense of freedom, which beats any yield management.
            This keeps the fare system very, very simple (at least if you travel beyond the border of a Tarifverbund).
            This whole simplicity makes the integrated public transportation network so well used.

          • Krist van Besien

            The SBB does have some form of Yield Management, in the form of limited Supersaver Tickets. These are for a specific train, are sold in advance, and can be very good value. I actually use these a lot.
            SBB has a lot of trains that it runs because it has to, but that are lightly loaded. To get more people on those trains it is offering cheap tickets. For example travelling between Bern and Zürich via the old line, and off peak, can be very cheap this way.

  5. Gok (@Gok)

    That <20% mode share is an unfortunate indication of the utter futility of meaningfully replacing cars with trains in the rich world, even in a tiny country which has devoted essentially unlimited resources for decades to improving rail and making driving worse. And that number isn't even as good as it sounds: it hasn't changed in a decade, despite continuous construction, and it excludes air travel. The entire first world could build and operate rail at Swiss levels and it would still have no major impact transportation carbon footprint.

    • wiesmann

      The money allocation is far from unlimited, you could argue that Switzerland has this share _despite_ a very strong car lobby, and a government that is pretty right wing.

    • Eric2

      But what matters is not high rail share, but low car share. These are not the same – many people walk and bike to their destination. Looking at modal share statistics, in Zurich the modal share of transit (including rail) is just 32%, but the share of cars is just 21%, the remainder walk and bike. And larger and denser cities with good transit do even better in terms of low car share. Car share is just 12% in Tokyo, 12% in Hong Kong, 18% in Osaka, 20% in Budapest and Paris, etc. Whereas low-density metro areas with good transit do horribly – 80% in Philadelphia, 78% in Portland OR. So if we want to decrease car share, upzoning to increase density seems likely to have the biggest effect.

      • Alon Levy

        That’s just Zurich proper – canton-wide it’s 60% car, 30% transit, 10% walk/bike. Lots of road warriors and SVP voters in the suburbs. That said, 30% metro area-wide is good in a metro region of 1.5 million with extremely high nominal incomes (so cars, imported from Germany, are cheap relative to local incomes, whereas train and trolleybus operating costs aren’t). Nothing in Germany surpasses that except Berlin, which is 3.5 times bigger.

        • Herbert

          A lot of cities have a “Umweltverbund” (walking, cycling, public transit) modal share above 50% even if public investment still goes overwhelmingly to cars…

        • Krist van Besien

          Modal Share in Zürich Canton is about 50% for commuting though (even more for commuters to Zürich city). Which means that transit has a huge effect on the peak road capacity needed.

          • Alon Levy

            Do you have a link? I’ve never found this number for the canton, only an all-trips number that split as 60% car, 30% public transport, 10% walk/bike, and usually the car modal split is the same for work trips and other trips while public transport gains at the expense of cycling for work trips.

      • michaelrjames

        I agree.
        Also I don’t quite see why Gok dismisses the carbon effect. Switzerland’s 19.3% (train modal share) is more than twice the EU’s average 7.9%, which in turn is probably twice the US’s. One reason the Swiss are building this stuff is to reduce their oil import bill. They have an excellent low-carbon electricity system but obviously not for transport other than rail (yet). Same reason why France built their nuclear power gen, and their rail and transit systems. I once did a back-of-envelope calculation on what it saved them on oil imports and it was in the trillions over the 4+ decades of their nuclear industry. It is not simply dollar cost but it impacts on balance-of-payments issues for a nation. It’s why earlier I expressed mystification as to why Japan has been so tardy about renewable energy because they have the biggest fossil fuel import bill (per cap) in the world; ok they have the exports to pay for it, but still.
        And then there’s climate change. Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and France have the lowest carbon footprint in Europe, of course mostly because of their low-carbon electricity generation. France’s electricity is close to zero carbon (they closed their last coal-fired gen last year) but road transport still is fuel-dependent which they are trying hard to lower; in addition to high fuel taxes the latest is to eliminate aviation for domestic destinations. Unlike Switzerland or those other small countries, France is a big country (the EU’s biggest) and does need HSR. Oh, and Hidalgo’s continuing campaign of “Paris for people not cars”: the proposal to transform the Champs Élysées has just been approved.

        • Herbert

          Unfortunately Germany’s attempts to become energy self sufficient relied on the dirtiest fuels possible. Coal from the Ruhr and lignite from Lusatia, central Germany and the Rhineland. Due to it being spread over low income regions in several states, touching lignite is politically difficult. Hence the ridiculous 2038 date for shutting down coal when even moderate ambition could bring that forward by a decade…

    • Max Wyss

      When you look at the commuting modal split, you also have “no commute”, “by foot”, “by bicycle” etc.

      Actually, Zürich is not bad at bringing the “by car” share down – on one hand by law, on the other hand by improving transit.

    • Herbert

      I think it’d make more sense to compare vehicle miles traveled per capita. After all, the best trip from the standpoint of the environment is the trip not made….

    • Alon Levy

      That’s in p-km, which means that you’re really just comparing intercity trains to both intercity and intracity car travel. Within the city you can’t meaningfully compare p-km, because transit users travel shorter distances than drivers. Big transit cities’ transit p-km per transit commuter average is consistently a fraction, about 1/4-1/3, of the v-km per vehicle one sees in auto cities like pretty much all of America. It’s something like 6,000 km vs. 20,000. European v-km/vehicle is more like 12,000 but that’s because trains do manage to compete with cars decently well for longer trips, and there’s just less exurban sprawl – there’s the city, there are suburbs, and then there’s living in the next city over, commuting by train, and otherwise having the driver behavior of a small city and not of the exurb of a big city.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Americans also seem less keen in my experience to do trips away than Europeans due to their lack of holiday allowance. Europeans typically get 5 weeks (or more) of holiday vs 2 in America?

        • Herbert

          There is zero legally guaranteed paid vacation in the U.S.

          And even people who get vacation are encouraged not to take it…

          • Henry Miller

            Vacation in the US has legal value. If you lose your job they have to pay you for unused vacation. For this reason your accountant will insist that everyone use up all their vacation every year, otherwise the carryover becomes a liability.

            While companies are not required to give you any vacation, for all by entry level jobs vacation is part of the package and people do compare how much vacation time they get when considering offers. Also most companies understand that you need to give your people some time off to get them to perform well.

            In general there isn’t as much vacation in the US as Europe, but for most people it isn’t nearly as bad as you seem to think it is.

          • adirondacker12800

            If you lose your job they have to pay you for unused vacation.

            No they don’t. Many are gracious enough to give it but they don’t have to. And some are gracious enough to pay you for unused vacation but they don’t have to. YMMV if it is covered under a collective bargaining agreement.

    • Yom Sen

      Yes, in spite of very good transit overall, Switzerland remains very car-centric outside big cities, it has one of Europe’s highest rates of cars per capita* and car remains the fastest and most confortable mode of transportation for most trips done in the country.
      The same argument that building more roads just increases traffic and does not reduce roads overcrowding can be given here. Building a transit network increases transit usage but does not necessarily decrease traffic by car.

      * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita

          • Matthew Hutton

            The richer you are generally the more miles you drive. The Swiss are rich.

            Plus if they are multi-lingual then from a linguistic perspective they effectively live in France AND Germany AND Austria and perhaps also Italy.

            The other question with the international travel penalties that Alon talks about – how much of that is due to Eurostar being expensive and both Paris and London lacking a single central station.

          • Herbert

            A lot of Germany commute to Switzerland because of higher wages (even absent weird SFr. currency distortions) and a lot of Swiss go shopping across the border…

          • michaelrjames

            I recall that a lot of the scientists, an international melange, who work at CERN choose to live on the French side of the border for those reasons. The atom-smashing ring actually straddles the border, in its underground tunnels though the only official entrance is on the Geneva side.

          • Yom Sen

            Don’t exagerate Swiss multilingualism! We have a new president who famously said in an interview “I can English understand but je préfère répondre en français”
            Both French and German are commonly spoken along the linguistic border around Bern or Fribourg but not really in Geneva or Zurich where German/French is clearly second “foreign” language after English, learnt at school but rarely used
            I have lived here for over 15 years (from France), I learnt a little German more by interest than necessity but never use it and the Italian I speak fluently is practically useless.
            Covid stats have been quite interesting as they showed for each linguistic area patterns that were different from each others but rather similar to neighbouring countries sharing the same language. Romandie was more hit in the 1st wave and at the beginning of the 2nd wave like France while northern Switzerland was hit later at the same time than Germany. It shows that Swiss people overall have most of their contacts within their linguistic community, including abroad.

          • Herbert

            Why would a Swiss person need to learn English? It’s not one of the national languages and none of the neighbors is known for their English….

          • Matthew Hutton

            To be fair most young Europeans speak English as it means they can talk to people from every country in Europe.

          • Yom Sen

            Yes, I’m not sure Herbert whose country is a Swiss neighbor and who’s writing to me in English, is serious…
            Anyway English is becoming a de-facto 5th national language and is learnt in schools of all cantons starting the age of 8 or 10, before French in Eastern Switzerland since early 21st century.

          • michaelrjames

            And despite Brexit the EU is not changing the status of English. Unless one counts ROI or Malta (and maybe Gibraltar, bizarrely now post-Brexit a member of Schengen!) there are no members whose official language is English. English is commonly spoken in Ireland or Malta but it is not an official language in either.

            The EU has 24 official languages, of which three (English, French and German) have the higher status of “procedural” languages of the European Commission (whereas the European Parliament accepts all official languages as working languages).


            English is the most commonly spoken foreign language in 19 out of 25 European Union countries (excluding the UK and Ireland) In the EU25, working knowledge of English as a foreign language is clearly leading at 38%, followed by German and French (at 14% each), Russian and Spanish (at 6% each), and Italian (3%).

            The great irony is that English is a unifying factor in the EU (as it is in old parts of the empire like India, Singapore, HK, Malaysia etc where otherwise there is a babel of cultural incomprehension and friction).

          • michaelrjames

            @fjod: “Why would you not count Ireland?”

            While English is a de facto co-equal language in the Republic of Ireland, it doesn’t have that legal status. Only Gaelic does. This is probably related to Irish sensitivities from centuries of British domination (and imposition of English).
            Like I said, that leaves Gibraltar as the only piece of mainland Europe to be officially English speaking. To cope with Brexit all kinds of special exemptions have been made, ultimately making it part of Schengen which seems pretty remarkable since the UK was never part of Schengen, hence all the palaver over Customs & Immigration control for Eurostar. But it is an acceptance of reality with so many crossing the border with Spain every day to work in Gibraltar; plus overland tourists. Flights between Gibraltar and UK must require passport control even though it is technically part of the UK.

            Speaking of Ireland and Schengen which the ROI is a member of, this creates oddball situations w.r.t. UK. Half a lifetime ago when my lab was in the process of transferring from Paris to Oxford, we were getting paid by our sponsors Wellcome Trust for almost a year in Paris as a transition arrangement (the labs were getting built in Oxford). But we had to get our work visas validated by UK C&I. I chose to do it while attending a conference in Dublin but got myself caught. Because flying from Paris to Heathrow and then on to the ROI, it didn’t happen .. because Ireland is Schengen and I was only changing planes! After the years and years of being forced to wait in the “foreign scum queue here” lines in Heathrow or wherever, even though I had worked up to ten years in the UK on valid work visas etc, the one time I wanted their ridiculous scrutiny and official stamp of entry, they didn’t give it to me!

          • michaelrjames

            Oops, in that last post I said “Gibraltar as the only piece of mainland Europe to be officially English speaking”. I should have said “piece of the EU”.

          • Yom Sen

            Technically, Gibraltar is part of mainland Europe but it is not in the EU. It’s like Switzerland or Norway a non-EU member of Schengen area, meaning that there won’t be officially any border control of passengers (but still control of goods) and “Schengen visas” will also be valid in Gibraltar.
            OTOH Ireland is in the EU but not part of Schengen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area

            If you don’t consider Ireland as an English speaking country, you might say the same of the USA or the UK since they don’t have formally any official language.

          • Herbert

            I think I read somewhere that every member state of the EU can only “bring into” the EU a maximum of one language. And it just so happens that Malta, Cyprus and Ireland are all rather keen on that language not being English…

            Also, as to my knowledge of the English language, I am of the – perhaps arrogant – impression that it is above my country’s average….

          • fjod

            @michaelrjames English is an official language of Ireland, Ireland is not in Schengen, and (though a few Brits would disagree on this one) the language is called Irish.

  6. Paul Dyson

    A good post. Reminds me that DB Consulting have told NCTD and LOSSAN that we do not need double track or better yet a bypass at San Clemente. I expect rather that they were told to avoid making that recommendation.

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