Zurich Central Station / Switzerland

Urban project for an underground station



Swiss railway system

**Organisational structure of the railways

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SMGG “stations” study - Organisational structure of the Swiss railways - UIC 2013

The Swiss railways are organised within an integrated structure, with specialised subsidiaries. Several railway undertakings operate on the Swiss network, their size depending on the network area they cover and the amount of passenger traffic they manage.
The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB-CFF-FFS), a state company supervised by the federal government, are the leading company in terms of traffic. The second major Swiss company is a private one, BLS. There are also more than 80 private companies operating on small sections of the network, some covering less than 30 km.

**Swiss railway network

The Swiss network has a very specific configuration, which explains in part how the railways are organised:

  • Dense and not very centralised, saturated in certain parts, total length 5 129 km (2008), 80% standard-gauge track (1 435 mm).
  • Organised hierarchically according to traffic flows:
    1. Major routes: two
      • North-south: international transport, with two through lines (Lötschberg base tunnel and Saint Gotthard tunnel).
      • East-west: Geneva to St. Gall, domestic passenger and freight traffic.
    2. Main lines: intercity trains, ICE, TGV, Euro-city. Includes high speed lines and freight traffic representing over 2 million tonne-kilometres per year.
    3. Regional lines: Regio and Regio Express trains. Mainly in the north of Switzerland and on the plateau.
    4. Urban and suburban lines: S-Bahn trains (suburban to short-distance regional services) at regular intervals, stations located close to one another and specific tariffs. Good interconnections and through traffic in town and city centres.

The specificities of the network are the presence of several track gauges and different voltages depending on the line section, effectively forming several networks of varying sizes. There are two main networks (SBB and BLS) and the small private companies operate small and very small networks, some of which are no longer than a dozen kilometres.

Governance and financing of Swiss stations


Ownership: CFF Immobilier: an independent real estate company on a competitive market which manages the 800 stations on the CFF network as well as 3 500 buildings and 4 000 land plots throughout Switzerland. CFF Infra: platforms, tracks and access ramps.
Management: CFF Infra and CFF Immobilier: governance is organised based on the nature of the station, with a hierarchical classification of stations on the Swiss railway network.
CFF Immobilier (independent real estate company which includes station management among its responsibilities), signed 30 000 station lease contracts in 2012.

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SMGG “Stations” study - Governance of Swiss stations - UIC 2013


Financing the construction and renovation of Swiss stations: CFF, CFF Immobilier, the federal government and CFF Infra finance renovation work in stations. Public-private partnerships also exist for the construction of new stations.
Station operating costs are covered through market segmentation and diversification of the railway undertakings’ activities within the stations, with a focus on sales and services.
With regard to financing station operating costs, improvements to services and commercial improvements as a source of funds depend on the nature of the station and its significance on the Swiss network; the more a station is considered significant, the more support activities will be provided in the station.

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SMGG “Stations” study - Financing model for Swiss stations - UIC 2013

Renovation policy for stations in Switzerland: latest trends

The new policy for station renovation was effectively launched after the 2011 CFF report on the risk of serious congestion in Swiss stations by 2040. In the 70 major Swiss stations, the number of passengers is set to increase by 40 to 140% by 2040. In the medium term, twelve stations will need resizing, including Morges and Rolle (VD) in French-speaking Switzerland.
Redeveloping these 12 stations will require 200 million Swiss francs of short-term financing. In the long term, 2 to 3.5 billion Swiss francs will be needed. The Geneva-Lausanne line, which is the most vulnerable part of the network, will be the top priority.

**Purposes of renovation

  • Urban: stations in harmony and interacting with their environment.
  • Sustainable: in line with new European standards.
  • Financial: increased station cost-effectiveness.

**Swiss problems and difficulties

  • Scarcity of available land around the stations.
  • Historical significance of station buildings (listed).
  • Increase of traffic and risk of serious congestion.


  • Generalise the new concept for Swiss stations and establish the right image by improving services.
  • Integrate stations into their environment and improve the image of stations (as architectural objects).
  • Increase the capacity of the Swiss stations that are highly congested. The lack of available land around the stations, which often lie at the centre of towns and cities has led to the development of underground stations in Switzerland.

The recent trend in renovating major Swiss stations is to define a new model of “Swiss-style” major stations: service-oriented components of cities, commercially efficient and perfectly connected. Concentrating passenger activities underground appears to be one of the preferred solutions in Switzerland.

Case study, Zurich Central Station

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Geographical context
Zurich is a densely populated city with 372 047 inhabitants (similar to a medium-sized French city such as Toulouse).
Economic capital of Switzerland.
Urban context: central.
At the heart of a dense urban fabric with commercial and service activities (Bahnhofstrasse area).


**History of Zurich Central Station

In 1847, the city’s first station, simply named Bahnhof Zürich [Zurich station], was officially opened. It had been designed by the architect Gustav Albert Wegmann. It was to serve as the terminus for the Schweizerische Nordbahn [Swiss northern railway] line starting in Basel.
In 1871 the station was extended and renovated to meet ever-increasing traffic demands. Its main entrance was rebuilt in the style of a triumphal arch.
The station used to be a cul-de-sac, with trains having to leave whence they came. Since then a tunnel has been built, allowing trains to continue on to Zurich Stadelhofen station. Originally used solely by the city’s S-Bahn service, the tunnel is now open to InterCity Express services.


**Description of station renovation project


With over 3 000 trains / day (884 mainline trains) and 400 000 passengers / day, figures which are set to rise by 45% by 2030 (national estimate), Zurich station reached saturation point in the mid-2000s due to:

  • Timetables with regular intervals between trains.
  • Development of the suburban network.
  • Commercialisation of the station.


The project is aimed at expanding and reorganising flows and activities within the station by grouping them and allocating sectors.

Renovation work (description

The station will become a more visible element of the urban landscape, better integrated with other transport infrastructure.

From a cul-de-sac to a through station:
The current configuration of the station makes trains have to stop for longer in the station. By way of an example, travelling from Berne to Zurich takes 56 minutes by train. No other transport mode comes close to matching that journey time. However, before leaving again in the other direction towards the airport and St. Gall, the train has to wait at the platform for nine minutes due to Zurich central station being a cul-de-sac. Renovation is centred around a new cross-city line which will save time for intercity and regional services.

Project for cross-city line to Zurich station - UIC 2013

The line will include three major civil engineering structures: Weinberg tunnel, which will allow trains to reach Oerlikon directly by an underground route, a new through station 16 metres under the tracks of the central station and, to the west, two bridges which will pass over the tracks parallel to the central station and cross the road bridges at right angles. Culminating at a height of 20 metres and supported by 30 pillars over a distance of more than one and a half kilometres, the two bridges will have a major impact on the urban landscape.

Optimisation of station space:
The factors identified as causes of congestion included a lack of flow management and an excessive number of different uses, multiplying the number of journeys and the need for space. This situation could be worsened by the increase in commercial services in the station should that increase not be thought out intelligently:
Zurich station has always been used for many purposes: its main hall, emptied of all clutter following renovation work in 1997, now hosts commercial activities (market, sales exhibitions, etc.). In addition the station includes several retail outlets, a post office, an opera house, an exhibition room, a police station, a church, a dental clinic, a doctor’s surgery and a shopping centre (in the basement, the 4th largest in the country).
The renovation project was aimed at consolidating this configuration by grouping together activities of the same type. The basement thus saw an increase in commercial activity whereas at street level the station was rearranged around service activities, with movements of people organised into optimised, planned and smaller flows.

Expected outcome of renovation

Increase station capacity (including commercial capacity to offset financial cost), shorten train stopover times and optimise flows.

Financing of station renovation work

The total cost is 2 billion Swiss francs.

Financing is shared between CFF Immobilier and the federal government.

Outcome of renovation work*

New commercial possibilities: increase in station’s commercial capacity of 2 500m².

Layout (2012 merchandising)

A commercial area consisting of 3 levels (main hall, intermediate basement, underground shopping centre) with 122 retail outlets, including:

  • 19 retail outlets on the main platform at street level (in historic building around Wannerhalle hall, 1 800m²)
  • 2 retail outlets on the intermediate underground level.
  • 101 retail outlets in the underground shopping centre.

Average time spent by users in the station before and after renovation:
Before (2007): 15 to 20 minutes. After: 30 minutes (making it one of the European stations with the highest amount of time devoted to shopping).