Plan for Luzern central station

The central railway station in Luzern (aka Lucerne), Switzerland, is at present a purely terminal station, meaning that all fourteen tracks end there. The only way for a train to leave the station is to change directions and go out the same way it came in.

In former times, this meant uncoupling the locomotive from the front of the train and attaching a different one at the back, a maneuver which typically involved four people, two engine drivers and two workers who had climb down onto the track to loosen or tighten bolts and plug or unplug electric cables. Nowadays this is no longer such an elaborate procedure, since most trains can be driven from both ends, but it is still time-consuming and complicates the routing of the trains, which are liable to get in each other’s way while entering and leaving the station.

An unusual feature of the Luzern station is that only ten of the fourteen tracks have the normal gauge of 1435 mm. The other four have a one-meter gauge and are used by the Zentralbahn, mainly in nearby mountainous areas.

In front of the Luzern train station is a recently re-arranged bus station with thirteen Kanten (= edges) where local buses, mainly articulated or double-articulated electric trolleybuses, glide in and out every few minutes. And in front of the bus station is the lakefront with docks for ships going to various other towns on Lake Lucerne.

The local newspaper in Luzern

During my recent visit to Luzern, I read the local newspaper at breakfast each morning, and learned of the plan to transform the railway station by constructing new tunnels from the north and south, and by adding four through-tracks below the existing terminus station.

The first morning there was a letter-to-the-editor opposing the plan, arguing that the local transit system of trains, trolleybuses and ships had been so optimized in recent years that there was no longer much point in disrupting it with a huge construction site that would bring chaos for a decade and only minimal improvements after that.

The second morning there was an editorial in which the editor-in-chief complained that the city council had decided not to replace an underground parking garage that would have to be demolished to make room for one of the new railroad tunnels. The council had already decided to free the city center of cars by 2040, so they thought the city could easily get along with one less parking garage. The editor called this reasoning “ideological” and pointed out that the parking garage was a steady source of income for the city and its pension fund — but he didn’t say how that income would continue flowing if there were no more cars to be parked there.

(Disclosure: I am a retired city employee — of a different city — now living partly off a city pension fund. Does this mean I have to support cars and parking garages, just to keep my pension from drying up?)

This reminded me of a completely different conflict a few years ago, in which the British Petroleum Company BP was responsible for a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; some politicians wanted to go easy on BP and not make it pay for the clean-up, on the grounds that much of its stock was owned by various pension funds.

Durchgangsbahnhof Luzern = Through-station Lucerne

The third morning was a Sunday, so there was no newspaper, but on that day I went to the Swiss Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus) and saw an exhibit on the proposed ‘century project’ to build four through-tracks underneath the Luzern terminal.

As I was starting to look at this exhibit, a man addressed me politely in High German (not Swiss German) and offered to answer any questions I might have about the project. I said I had just learned of this project in the past couple of days by reading the local newspaper, and added: “I hope this project is better planned than the one in Stuttgart.”

For this he had a reassuring answer: “Don’t worry, this project is more like Zürich, not Stuttgart.” In other words, the future through-tracks in Luzern will be in addition to, not instead of, the existing terminal tracks.

I said I had already changed trains a couple times in Zürich since the new tracks were inaugurated in 2014, and had seen for myself that they have increased the capacity of the station. In Stuttgart, if construction is ever finished, the new platforms are going to be “this wide” (reaching out with my hands on both sides) and at a slant, with one end much higher than the other.

Ein Jahrhundertprojekt = A project of the century

According to this text panel, the Swiss Federal Parliament still has to decide — probably in 2027 — if the proposed new tunnels and tracks in Luzern will be built or not. If the project is approved, construction could begin in 2030 and take about ten years.

My photos and text in this post are from 2022.

See more posts on Luzern, Switzerland.
See also: Stuttgart Central Station and Stuttgart 21.
See also: Vienna Central Station.

7 thoughts on “Plan for Luzern central station”

  1. In the U S, I feel it’s nearly unheard of for cities of this size to openly discuss plans for projects that will terminate in 20 years. Maybe I’m out of touch but we don’t seem to do much long term planning in a public forum. Perhaps because most people would reject such a project on the grounds that ‘we can worry about it later’. I’m not defending this way of thinking, just an observation.

    1. Germany is also not very good at long-term planning, except that short projects tend to become long-term because of special-interest groups delaying them in the courts for years. In 1995 I went to a public meeting to hear about plans for expanding one of the railroad lines in Frankfurt (not far from our house) from two tracks to four. Now, 27 years later, these plans are finally being implemented.
      In Switzerland, the citizens are more accustomed to long-term projects, particularly because of the many alpine tunnels that have been constructed there since the 19th century.

  2. I visited Lucerne back in 2010, my Switzerland town of choice. It was not very crowded, possibly because I visited in October. I understand the reduction of cars in the city center, as this is also the goal in Paris, but the construction process is a nightmare!

    1. When I was in Luzern a few weeks ago, I read in the local newspaper that the number of American tourists is back up to pre-corona levels, but there are fewer Asian tourists than before.

      1. You are fortunate to live so close and not have to fight the U.S. security lines trying to get to Europe! Six hours in some cities.

  3. How complex. I never heard of a railway as you’ve described. It is time for change.

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