Thursday 19 January 2023

Stunning Swiss S-Bahn

But A Relative Newcomer

The Zurich S-Bahn (suburban network) did not launch until 1990, although some of the routes had been operated as part of Swiss Railways network for many years. But the change was far more than just a rebranding. Its origins lay in the desire for an underground network; but the aspirations were dashed when a referendum rejected the idea.

Switzerland is run with frequent referenda in which voters have a real influence on "political" and financial decisions. (Sounds a good idea?)

Although traditional underground had been given the thumbs down, the plan was to build three tunnels below city streets. These would overcome the big rail problem in Zurich, namely that all trains had to run into and "reverse" out of the dead end terminus at Hauptbahnhof, hence the multiple junctions revealed yesterday.
In Phase 1, three tunnels were built.

SZU Solution
The first was reasonably straightforward in concept. The independent SZU railway (Sihltal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn) was extended from its rather uninspiring terminus at Selnau ...
... in tunnel to two underground platforms at Hauptbahnhof. These have no rail connection with anything else at the main station.
The tunnel also passed under a river, so the former terminus is now located underriver underground!
Although completely independently operated with a striking orange livery, the two SZU routes are now firmly part of the S-Bahn network as S4 and S10.

Stadelhofen Solution
To get to Stadelhofen station (terminus of tram 15 - see yesterday's blog) was a right faff. Trains left Hauptbahnhof travelling west, then did a huge U turn over the river before heading south east. (Light coloured line on the Google Earth shot above). After a brief trundle along the riverbank ...
... trains entered the Letten tunnel which then veered south and reappeared at the northern end of the platforms at Stadelhofen.
The re-appearance was quite spectacular!
This was a slow route and not commensurate with Swiss-slick and efficient S-Bahn. So new tunnels were dug to four underground platforms at Hauptbahnhof ...
.. with tunnel on under the Limmat river direct to Stadelhofen.

As part of the initial plan a third tunnel was built under the Zurichberg hills to link the S-Bahn more directly with services to the north and east. The three tunnels are shown dotted RED on the map below.
The Letten line (dotted GREY) and its station (located before the rails plunged into the tunnel) ...
...  were closed. The former station is now a private dwelling.
The junction for the Zurichberg line was in the tunnel south of Stadelhofen ...
... and its one station, Stettbach, is also below ground.
Despite most of the appurtenances lying under the soil, the platforms do peep into the fresh air at the northern end ...
... and, of course, there are bus and tram stops "on site".
Tram 7 (BLACK), which we met yesterday at Scaffhauserplatz (remember?), will take you into central Zurich as an alternative to he S-Bahn; whilst tram 12 (LIGHT BUE) will take you via two other station interchanged (Wallsellen  and Glattbrugg) to the airport.
And there is a good selection of local buses!

Subsequent Solutions
Zurich's network continues to expand and in 2014 a FOURTH tunnel opened.
This provides a third route from Oerlikon into Hauptbahnhof and is part of a massive improvement to many through services, now without change of direction.

All three tunnels can be seen below, viewing south from near Oerlikon station.
The Weinberg tunnel was opened on 14 June 2014, and forms part of the Altstetten–Zürich–Oerlikon cross-city line, also known as the Durchmesserlinie Zürich, which also includes new elevated approach tracks from Altstetten to Zürich Hauptbahnhof, and the rebuilding of Oerlikon station with two additional tracks and platforms. At Zürich Hauptbahnhof, the tunnel serves a pair of underground island platforms, with four platform tracks, numbered as Hauptbahnhof tracks 31 to 34 but sometimes referred to as Löwenstrasse station. These platforms are linked to the station's other platforms and facilities, both underground and surface, by a complex of subways and shopping malls.

This route carries "intercity" trains as well as S-Bahn; a 4 minute video.
So that's another four platforms underground at Hauptbahnhof, making a total of ten.

Impressive, eh?

Tomorrow, fbb will explore the magnificent upgrade of the station at Stadelhofen and meet some transport oddities.

Puzzle Picture
What is going on here?
The answer will follow at the weekend. Clue : it is indicative of the creative principles of Bill Bodge and Fred Fudge!

Mrs fbb spotted this on-line. It is a "mash up" but the message is very appropriate.

  Next Zurich blog : Friday January 20th 


  1. It seems that despite Swiss voters having rejected an underground system, quite a lot of tunnelling has actually been the outcome. Perhaps the authorities there are not afraid to ignore the result of a referendum when the voters give the wrong answer?

  2. I think the tunnelling that was rejected for a proposed Metro system, after the first length had been built in the north east of the city. It is today in use on tram routes 7 & 9, with three underground stations north of Milchbruck. Trams have to crossover at either end of the section so that their doors are adjacent to the central island platform (see plans on for details).
    I may be confusing matters, but I think the SZU platforms at Hauptbahnhof may also originally have been intended for Metro use.