Even the Swiss need timekeepers

ABB technology keeps the trains, planes, trams and buses running like clockwork in Switzerland

When a train is late in Switzerland, it’s big news. Even the meaning of “late,” which the Swiss authorities define as “three minutes or more,” is stricter here than most other countries that roll with a leisurely “five-to-ten minutes or more” attitude. And, as anyone who has traveled through Switzerland can attest, the same precision-oriented mind-set applies to buses, trams and air traffic.

Maintaining this transportation timeliness requires the most up-to-date technology and the type of innovative solutions that ABB has supplied to Swiss transportation providers across the country for more than 130 years.

ABB technology has been making the Swiss rail system stronger and “smarter” and is now enabling it to expand with both onboard and wayside solutions in a diverse range of projects…

For the Jungfrau Railway, which winds through nine kilometers of ice, rock and tunnels hewn out of the mountains to reach the highest railway station in Europe, at 3,453 meters, ABB has supplied many solutions over the years. The original line was electrified by Brown, Boveri, the forerunner to ABB, and today, ABB technology continues to energize the line. On board the trains, ABB traction transformers power the trains to bring visitors to the summit year round.

Rhaetian railways, RhB, which operates systems in the rugged Graubunden region, is another long-standing ABB partner. BBC, the predecessor company of ABB, provided the first locomotives on the railway’s Albula line in 1913, and the Railway recently partnered with ABB to revamp its fleet of “Allegra” trains that now brandish the ABB logo. The line’s routes feature steep climbs in high-alpine climates with extremely low winter temperatures, so the drives must be very powerful and rugged. ABB supplied the compact transformers and converters as part of innovative and energy-efficient drive packages developed specifically for the exacting demands of the Rhaetian Railway.

In the southwestern Alps, ABB is supplying new traction substations to SBB and the private Matterhorn Gotthard Railway. The technology enables SBB and the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway to increase their capacity to meet rising traffic volume in southwestern and central Switzerland. ABB has also supplied traction transformers and converters to BLS, the largest private railway in Switzerland, and to SBB Cargo, the freight unit of the Swiss Federal Railways.

In Geneva, ABB is supplying Static Frequency Converters (SFC) to strengthen the Swiss National rail (SBB). The SFC technology will enhance the availability, reliability and quality of power supply and support the ambitious expansion of the rail network in the Geneva area.

For train manufacturer Stadler, ABB is supplying state-of-the-art traction and onboard power equipment to be used by three European rail operators. The new equipment will enable more sustainable regional and suburban transit in urban areas with improved intercity connections, less congestion and reduced emissions in Switzerland, Sweden and Hungary. Traction products convert electricity from overhead power lines to the voltage levels needed by the trains’ motors and a host of auxiliary power systems, including lighting, heating, ventilation and automatic doors.

ABB Ability TM-enabled MicroSCADA systems, have also been installed in several Swiss railway systems, including the Gornergrat railway (GGB) in Zermatt. The GGB connects the town of Zermatt with the mountain station on the Gornergrat ridge, a popular tourist destination that also houses a high-elevation Alpine research station. The railroad, the highest outdoor-toothed gear railroad in Europe, stretches for 9.3 km from 1604 m to 3089 m, with the maximum slope grade reaching 20 percent.

Most recently, ABB technology is making inroads in sustainable transportation, in the form of a fleet of emission-free totally electric TOSA (Trolleybus Optimisation Système Alimentation) buses in Geneva. They now safely and swiftly transport about 10,000 passengers per day between the airport and the city’s suburbs. This technology does not require overhead lines and significantly mitigates noise. Through optimal energy management, the system can also save as much as 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide on a line covering 600,000 kilometers per year.

And talk about timeliness, TOSA buses use ABB’s world-record-holding flash-charging solution that can connect with a charging station in less than a second and quickly charge the bus battery in 20 seconds, while passengers get on and off. In addition, the bus system is equipped with an ABB AbilityTM Network Manager SCADA system to monitor and control the power network for the charging stations and e-buses, maximizing availability and operational efficiency. It is integrated with the ABB AbilityTM Ellipse Select, EAM software with embedded best-practice parameters and industry specific workflows. This further optimizes maintenance processes, enables a fast response to fault incidents and better predicts maintenance needs. The overall solution is also equipped with remote access and ‘cloud’ capabilities and is scalable to meet future needs.

And to keep the planes running on time at the Zurich airport, regardless of the weather, ABB designed a network control system based on the Remote Terminal Units to control and monitor the power supply. Every sector is controlled and monitored autonomously. If power failure occurs in the automatic mode, the system will try to re-establish the power supply via an alternate route as fast as possible.

The only “forest” in the Swiss fairy tale is that all of this transportation efficiency means there’s no easy excuse for arriving more than three minutes late to lunch or the doctor.


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About the author

Thierry Lassus

I work as Head of ABB’s Sustainable Public Transportation initiative ( Rail, Road, Water) and Managing Director of ABB’s Sécheron in Geneva. I joined ABB in 1999 and have held various positions within the company . I have a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Nottingham University and ESIEE as well as a Business Academy degree. At ABB we have always been at the forefront of developing state-of-the-art and cost-efficient solutions that meet our customers’ needs and enable a greener future for all and I am pleased to contribute to this vision.
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