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Swissmetro and Switzerland: a trend analysis

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Complete with results
Project Acronym
F5a (NRP 41)
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport sectors
Passenger transport


Background & Policy context

The NRP 41 was launched by the Federal Council at the end of 1995 to improve the scientific basis on which Switzerland's traffic problems might be solved, taking into account the growing interconnection with Europe, ecological limits, and economic and social needs. The NRP 41 aimed to become a think-tank for sustainable transport policy. Each one of the 54 projects belongs to one of the following six modules:

  • A Mobility: Socio-institutional Aspects
  • B Mobility: Socio-economical Aspects
  • C Environment: Tools and Models for Impact Assessments
  • D Political and Economic Strategies and Prerequisites
  • E Traffic Management: Potentials and Impacts 
  • F Technologies: Potentials and Impacts
  • M Materials
  • S Synthesis Projects

Evaluation of possible spatial effects of Swissmetro.


The used method is based on the ex-ante comparison of the following three situations:

  1. The situation before the construction of the infrastructure;
  2. The situation in case the infrastructure is not constructed;
  3. The situation after the construction of the infrastructure.

The study is subdivided in 6 subsystems and 40 variables, analysing the recent and the future situations. An approach illustrating the dimensions centre-periphery and centre-agglomeration was chosen to measure the relations among the subsystems. A projection of future situations (5 scenarios) has been made using different combinations of the variables and the 'Futuribles' scenario-method.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
Swiss National Science Foundation SNF
Type of funding
Public (national/regional/local)


Spatial Effects of Swissmetro (5 scenarios):

  1. Dynamic and open growth: Favours the gap between urban centers and peripheral areas, but does not deepen regional differences.
  2. A rich and solitary Switzerland: Reinforces the Greater Zurich area in particular.
  3. The tendency scenario or uncertain future: Favourable to large international centres, built-up areas on Lake Geneva and Zurich more than other urban centres.
  4. A Switzerland with sustainable development: Concentration in city centres and the surrounding areas become less attractive. Favourable to the balance between regions.
  5. Old and declining Switzerland: The effects concentrate a lot of activity in Zurich, the only centre able to attract tertiary activity in this economic context marked by recession. Given the sites of Swissmetro stops and the congruence of the project with urban development, Swissmetro should reinforce the tendency to concentrate activity in large Swiss cities. According to the scenario, this concentration will affect above all the centres of cities and also their surrounding areas if a strong trend in economic specialisation and a lack of land for building are latent in major urban centres (competition for space and high-value economic activity).

Swissmetro is also an instrument for networking major Swiss urban centres. According to the scenarios, this networking could reinforce regional inequalities and benefit certain urban regions, particularly Zurich, at the expense of other regions. In a context of specialised and complementary economic development on the other hand, Swissmetro could contribute to the development of synergism between the economic activity of major Swiss centres. As for the areas not served by the Swissmetro network, it is not only because of the absence of stops, in other words the tunnel effect, that small and medium-sized towns as well as peripheral regions cannot profit from the project. Even more than the service provided, it is local economic specialisation which is decisive in the ability of an area to profit from the high speed. Swissmetro cannot act directly benefit peripheral areas.

Policy implications

The lack of a federal role concerning the planning of transport projects could prove an impediment to the completion of a Swissmetro network effective both in a territorial and an economic sense. Carried out according to an exclusively economic logic, the Swissmetro project could create unwanted effects. We advise that the decision whether or not to construct Swissmetro should be taken according to the social/spatial context. According to the scenarios, the highspeed project is much more up to the task of favouring desirable spatial developments than others. It will therefore be a matter of instrumentalising this transport project in order to arrive at the desired territorial effects. Such a process of implementation will not work without active participation of public decision-makers in the definition of this transport project which is also a social project in many ways.



Key Findings
No results directly relevant to this theme. However, please note that some findings relevant to the project's key theme (Long-distance) are generically applicable.

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Policy Implications


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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