The Alpine Initiative


In 1987 the roads in the Swiss canton of Uri were severely damaged by flooding. This led to a drastic drop in transnational road traffic which in turn led to greatly reduced pollution. As a result of this the citizens of Uri linked up with three neighboring cantons to create the Alpine Initiative. The Alpine Initiative proposed to transfer transalpine freight traffic from road to rail and to stop increasing the capacity of transalpine transit roads.

A popular initiative on these proposals was started in May 1989 and by May 1990, 107,500 valid signatures had been collected. The Article on the Protection of the Alps was adopted by the Swiss people in a referendum on 20 February 1994 and is therefore now part of Swiss law. The Alpine Initiative wrote the text of the law as an objective only. The Federal Council (the Swiss cabinet) and the Swiss parliament were then required to take the necessary measures to implement the law.

The passing of the referendum paved the way towards a progressive transport policy which will transfer as much freight tonnage as possible from road to rail. It was decided to transfer 650,000 journeys from road to rail each year by 2010, using new tunnels accommodating piggyback transport. This initiative is called New Railway Lines through the Alps (NLFA) and the NLFA will link up to connections with other trans-European high speed rail networks. At the heart of the project is the new 57 km St Gotthard tunnel which when it is completed will be the longest in the world. The project will be paid for by raising the tax on transnational road freight, diverting some fuel taxes to the project and allocating some VAT revenue for the initiative.

eurostar_at_st_pancras_jan_20081_300Switzerland is at the geographical heart of Europe and shares borders with Austria, Germany, France, Lichtenstein and Italy. Faster transit times means that train travel is becoming a major competitor on some European airline routes. The opening of the new Lötschberg tunnel in 2007 in Switzerland reduced traveling time from German destinations through Switzerland to Milan in Northern Italy by one hour. Coupled with the fact that trains runs from city centre to city centre with no lengthy check-in procedures, high speed rail is emerging as a viable competitor to short haul flights.

At the current time the UK has only the Channel Tunnel lines with high speed capacity. Professor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, considers that UK's most comparable national model is Japan which is a country of similar density and size. "They have similar geography, population density and land costs. They shift huge numbers of people along their rail corridors."