Stefan Marschnig, University of Technology Graz

Switzerland introduces new Track Access Charging Scheme

Switzerland will introduce a very accurate and advanced model to calculate track access charges in 2017. The new model will be vehicle-based which means that railway operators with trains that damage the rail infrastructure will have to pay more for the use of the tracks. In this way, the procurement of track-friendly trains will be stimulated.

On 12 April the Track Access Charges Summit will take place in SBB’s headquarters in Bern. One of the topics of this conference is the Swiss model for Track Access Charges (TAC’s). Assistant professor Stefan Marschnig of the Technical University of Graz did several researches about TAC’s and will be the chairman of this conference. He explains why the Swiss’ model is unique in the world.

Why is the Track Access Summit at SBB’s office in Bern so interesting for the railway sector?

Switzerland is introducing the most accurate and advanced vehicle-based track access charging scheme in 2017. At the conference, rail professionals will learn all the details.

What are SBB’s plans when it comes to track access charges?

Using SBB’s track deterioration model (Wear Factor, or Verschleissfaktor), the Bundesambt für Verkehr will replace the gross-tonne-depending charge – that is the one addressing track wear and tear – by a vehicle-based model. This ensures much better cost allocation (for example, high wear costs in curves will be charged in curves). This approach provides an incentive to purchase track-friendly vehicles on the one hand, and to use certain train compositions on certain lines if possible, on the other.

What is the impact of the European legislation when it comes to access charges?

The framework changed with the publication of Regulation 2015/909. For the first time, direct cost is described in quite some detail. Furthermore, this Regulation addresses technical parameters such as speed, axle load, and track radius, to be considered in charging schemes. However, some of these parameters were also mentioned back in 1991.

How do the Swiss implement the TAC’s?

In a very detailed manner. Vehicle and track characteristics are not averaged but charged exactly due to the track radius and speed level. This sounds very complex, but at the end of the day, it is simple to use for railway undertakings.

Can you explain why this way of implementing is unique and how is it different from the current situation?

Most infrastructure managers in Europe either charge track costs by train kilometre or by gross-tonne-kilometre. Both cost units are allowed due to Regulation 2015/909, but both are very rough estimations on what is happening. Track costs in curves are much higher than in straight sections, and higher speeds definitely lead to higher costs. These cost impacts are averaged by using averaged approaches based on train or gross-tonne-level. Costs are therefore partly allocated to wrong users and wrong lines.

Can other member states learn from the Swiss?

They should! This approach is based on a simple description of vehicle-track-interaction. It is simple enough to implement. The big advantage turns out to be that it provides incentives for track-friendly vehicles. In a mid to long-term view, this will help to decrease the cost of the entire system.

How can it help the railway sector?

As already mentioned, the overall goal is to reduce track costs long-term. There are further aspects that count, especially for crowded networks: lower track damage leads to less maintenance demand. Less maintenance demand reduces the down-times of lines. Higher capacity helps the system. And of course, it also facilitates the implementation of European vehicle manufactures’ innovative technology (which already exists, in part).

What does it mean for international transportation?

Switzerland is not Europe, of course. And the UK doesn’t really count in that aspect. For international train operators (freight operators), the benefits will increase when other infrastructure managers follow the Swiss approach. But nevertheless, someone has to start – and that is Switzerland in this case.

Does it have any (positive) impacts on the passengers or clients of freight operators?

Track access charges, especially the direct cost part, are a cost transfer topic between infrastructure managers and railway operators. In most countries, total charges including mark-ups are much higher than direct cost – and track costs are only a part of those. Bearing in mind that TAC’s are only a small part of the railway operator’s production cost, the short-term effect will be low for passengers or freight clients. What counts is the long-term view – and vehicle-based charges contribute to the increased competitiveness of railways.

Network Rail already introduced access charges that take friendly trains into account. In what way is the approach of the Swiss different from the British?

As far as I know, the UK’s variable TAC’s have a similar approach, but are not charged according to the actual run of the train. The Swiss model delivers different TAC’s for the same train if the train is running on different lines. For example, if you have a curvy line, a self-steering bogie delivers low wear and you would therefore pay lower charges. The same train on a straight section does not really lead to significantly lower wear.

Train operators have complained about the big differences in calculations for the TAC’s in each country. Does the Swiss model make it easier for train operators to calculate the cost of their (international) services?

“The Swiss approach (and also the British one) is much more complex than any previous one. To simply charge railway operators for each train is wrong, seen from a cost allocation point of view, and leads to wrong economic decisions.”

“Law can only achieve a harmonization in Europe. Such a directive would have to take into account that not all Infrastructure Managers are on the same technological level and knowledge. Therefore, it would lead to a simple calculation that deliver wrong economic signals.”

“Apart from that, this is the EU: with the same regulation, all member states will create totally different TAC schemes. There will be different interpretations of what is published on the direct cost. Not to mention mark-ups.”

Read more about the Track Acces Charges Summit:

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of, and, online magazines for railway professionals.

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