Making the train(s)

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

16 November 2014

I don’t know about you, but I find that, no matter how much time I plan before I need to make a train, I get there and jump on a mere moment before it leaves the station.  But this blog post isn’t about that form of “making” a train.

Swiss trains are legendary for their timeliness, coverage and meticulousness.  But what a lot of people may not realize is how much is going on in Switzerland to not just TAKE trains, but to also MAKE trains.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting one of these high quality Swiss train manufacturers: Stadler Rail in Bussnang (in Canton Thurgau).

Because of their positive impact on the environment with their solutions, their expansion efforts – including to the United States, and their relentless pursuit of quality and safety, I felt like a kid in a candy store.  Some of what I learned:

  • They have one of the best acronym names for one of their trains: The FLIRT (Fast Light Innovative Regional Train)
  • Stadler Rail has been at the forefront of train safety innovation – they designed among the first impact absorption arms (look at the picture below to see the arms that stick out of the front of the train in case of a collision.  These arms absorb the impact.)
  • They already have systems in the US.  For example – Austin.  Note – some of my friends from Austin have already weighed in that they quite like those trains.  In Austin – the government leadership owns the shortline freight corridor in the city and they used that corridor for daytime light weight trains – moving the freight utilization to the evening.
  • They are  also in New Jersey, Dallas and California
  • One of the big differences in rail usage between Europe and the United States: Freight vs. people.  In the US – freight rail usage is very strong – and freight has dedicated corridors.  In Europe – it’s more about people.
  • Speaking about people – in addition to their facilities in Switzerland, they like to build up facilities closer to where they have customers.  For example – they have manufacturing facilities in Poland and Hungary where most of the employees are local.
  • In my home town of Seattle, there are a lot of efforts to put in Light Rail, trolleys and to improve the rail usage overall.  Frankly, it’s much easier to take the light rail between the Airport and downtown Seattle than to take a cab.  In fact, I made this video when the light rail first launched in 2009 featuring 2 adorable little ladies heading to the airport (please – no criticizing the video quality – it was 2009 – and I was in videographer, narrator, and mom-mode all at once).

All in all – it was an amazing visit and I’m very much looking forward to seeing their further expansion into the United States!

Here is a link to the Embassy Bern page on the visit.