Three new tram lines for Bern

December 12, 2010, 2 Comments

It’s goodbye to the gay tram! Starting today there are three new tram lines in Bern – and two which have gone. Until now, we’ve had the rather oddly-numbered 3, 5 and 9 plus the G tram. And in German the letter G sounds roughly like the word gay (nearly all the -ee letters in English, such as BDPT and G, all change to an -ay sound in German). I seem to be the only one who calls it the gay tram, as in the local dialect it’s known as the Blaues Bähnli or ‘little blue train’, mainly because that’s exactly what it was. The big shock a while ago was that this famously blue tram gained a new red carriage in the middle, one with lower floors for disabled access. It was no longer true blue and, even worse, it was now in the football colours of Basel, the bad boys of Swiss football.

But the G tram is dead, as are the 5 and buses 13 & 14, while the 3 tram is cut in half. Instead we have the new lines 6 (from Worb to Fischermätteli), 7 (from Ostring to Bümpliz) and 8 (from Saali to Brünnen Westside), all nicely filling in those number gaps in the system. After years of planning, many referenda, months of construction and millions of francs the three new lines went into service first thing this morning, prompting a day-long party all along the new routes; there’s nothing the Swiss love more than celebrating a new train or tram. A bit of live music, a grilled sausage, a speech and a shiny new tram – that’s always popular.

If you’re wondering why the new lines have been inaugurated in the middle of December, it’s because today is the day for the national timetable change. Every year on the second Sunday of December all the transport timetables, from the Swiss Federal Railways through the regional lines down to city transport and the Postbus, are changed for the whole of the coming year. It’s a co-ordinated process precisely because it’s an integrated, co-ordinated system planned as a whole so that connections are linked and waiting times reduced. Platform numbers are even set and printed on the giant timetables that are a feature of every Swiss station.

All this means that you can find out an exact timetable for any trip anywhere in the country, even if it means using three or four different types of transport. Enter any two points into the SBB website and up comes a full itinerary, complete with connection times and platform numbers, no matter if that includes trains, boats, city trams, local buses or cable-cars. What’s more you can buy one ticket to cover the whole journey, regardless of how many different operators are involved. Alongside SBB, there are various regional companies, the Postbus, private mountain trains, and local transport in every city. Numerous operators but one system. Not only is that more efficient but so much more customer-friendly.

So now the domitory suburbs of Bern West are no longer at the end of a long, erratic trolley-bus ride but an integral part of the tram network. Perhaps now the big shopping centre out at Westside will have some customers. Every time I’ve been out there the shops have been like ghost towns with staff outnumbering customers by bout 10 to 1; it’s only the mulitplex cinema and spa that ever seem to have any people in them. I might even be moved to go out there more than twice a year, if only for the tram ride.

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