“We have a responsibility to those directly affected and to the general public”
Interview with Bernard Guillelmon, CEO BLS Ltd
BLS is following the recommendations of the “BLS Workshop” monitoring group. Why have you decided to maintain the BLS trains at three different locations after all?
The communication concerning our choice of location in western Bern was not well received – our analysis was perceived as technocratic. This is why BLS set up a monitoring group to provide us with recommendations on the future of our workshops. In September 2016, the broad-based work of this monitoring group under Bernhard Antener subsequently provided a good foundation for our strategy. Firstly, it has confirmed the need for a new, modern facility for the maintenance of our trains. Secondly, of a total of 42 locations taken into consideration, it has recommended the district of Chliforst Nord in the west of Bern as the site for the new workshop. The monitoring group has carefully weighed up all the benefits and drawbacks. It is particularly important that both the canton of Bern and the Communal Parliament of the City of Bern constructively support BLS’s approach. We cannot take this for granted.
Why didn’t BLS itself come up with the idea of locating the new workshop in Chliforst Nord?
When we conducted our analysis of the various locations in 2013, we deemed woodland areas to be a no-go. The monitoring group has now provided a fresh perspective. In Chliforst Nord, the inclusion of forested land would not only mean sacrificing less agricultural land, but also offers the opportunity for us to continue using and even expanding the workshop in Bönigen, in addition to the one in Spiez. This makes sense both operationally and financially. It also means that BLS can consolidate its presence with jobs in the Bernese Oberland and in the city of Bern. But we are only at the beginning. In Chliforst Nord there are also those who will be directly affected, and we have to find solutions to the negative impact they will otherwise suffer. Overall, there are still many questions which we must find answers to in collaboration with those affected at all levels.
Why does BLS need a new workshop in the first place? Couldn’t the company simply continue using one of the four existing facilities?
As things stand, that is unfortunately impossible. Mobility is developing rapidly. Public transport is being continuously expanded. Ever more trains are in operation. And these trains are set to become even longer, in order to accommodate as many passengers as possible. The old workshops are therefore reaching maximum capacity. And from the end of 2019, BLS will no longer have access to the Aebimatt workshop in the western part of Bern Railway Station. In the long term, we therefore need a new, modern facility to the west of Bern. The heavily used rail network requires short access routes, which for us means near the centre of Bern’s S-Bahn network. This is the only way we can ensure a smoothly functioning S-Bahn service for commuters and travellers in the future. To this end, we want and need to reliably maintain the BLS engines and trains. We owe this to the 150,000 passengers who travel with us each day, to the population, and to the Bernese economy.
In Chliforst Nord, property owners and the landscape alike will be affected by the construction of a workshop. How will you handle this?
It is unfortunately the case that such an undertaking will negatively impact people and the environment. It’s an extremely stressful situation for those affected. It is therefore important to BLS and to me personally that those property owners who are directly affected, as well as environmental organisations and local interest groups, are involved in the project development and planning from the outset. Our aim is that we work together to find the best possible feasible solutions.
How will you ensure this happens?
We will invite all affected property owners and stakeholders to the so-called Chliforst Nord Dialogue Group. They will thereby be given an active, participatory role in the entire project process. This is the best possible way for us to take account within the project of the concerns, but also the ideas and suggestions, of those affected and of interest groups.
Isn’t this your way of simply softening up potential opponents of the new workshop?
No. Our aim is rather to work with those affected to find the best possible feasible solutions. To achieve this, we are getting people involved at an early stage. I don’t hope to satisfy everyone. That’s because we have a real dilemma on our hands: on the one hand, we feel obligated to those directly affected, whilst also having a responsibility to the general public. Because the workshop ultimately serves the quality of life of many people, as well as environmentally friendly mobility. It will safeguard and consolidate the public transport system. BLS wants to take judicious consideration of these diametrically opposed interests.
What happens next?
BLS wants to do more than hold a dialogue; it wants to truly involve those affected and let them influence the outcome. This is why I am chairing the dialogue group, so that the participants have direct communication with executive management. We will regularly sit down with those affected at every level, and thus initiate the formal project process. This will take some years. We will keep people continuously updated about the individual stages. According to our current plans, we can hope to take Switzerland’s most modern train-maintenance facility into commission in 2025.