BLS and SBB to continue long-distance collaboration

Bern Station SBB

The collaboration between the two Swiss rail operators, BLS and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), in the realm of long-distance travel is set to continue, with a new long-distance connection introduced by BLS in December 2025. The IR56 Biel/Bienne–Delémont–Basel route will now operate on a half-hourly schedule, providing a more attractive option for travellers.

Since 2019, SBB and BLS have effectively collaborated on several lines, including Bern‒Olten, Bern‒Biel/Bienne, and Bern‒Neuchâtel‒La Chaux-de-Fonds. Looking ahead, SBB, BLS, and a third Swiss rail company, Südostbahn (SOB) plan to extend this successful cooperation model into the next concession period starting December 2029. Under this model, SBB retains the concession for long-distance travel but delegates the operation of specific long-distance lines to BLS and SOB. This collaborative effort was solidified in 2022 with the involvement of the Federal Office of Transport (BAV).

Commencing December 2025, Northwest Switzerland will witness an enhanced travel experience with the implementation of a half-hourly schedule on the Biel/Bienne–Delémont–Basel SBB long-distance route. The opening of the double-track Grellingen–Duggingen facilitates this improvement. As part of the agreement between BLS and SBB, BLS will operate the additional long-distance connection – IR56, while SBB will continue to run the second long-distance connection on the same route, IC51. Notably, IC51 will be extended to Lausanne starting December 2025, departing or concluding its journey in Biel/Bienne.

To ensure a comfortable journey on the IR56, BLS has ordered seven MIKA trains from Stadler. These trains boast 242 seats, a 2+1 seating arrangement in the 1st class, multifunctional zones for bikes and luggage, and a dedicated bistro zone. This strategic move aligns with the anticipated passenger numbers and addresses the diverse needs of travellers. BLS, in collaboration with tourism partners, aims to promote local excursion destinations along the newly introduced long-distance line, a practice already successfully implemented in various regions within its network.

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Author: Emma Dailey

Emma Dailey is an editor at RailTech.com and RailTech.be.

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