The cantonal landmark for public transport, Zug railway station, is of a type that is rather special in Switzerland. In this so-called ‘wedge station’ (Keilbahnhof = a station located between branching tracks ), many trains have to stop in the bend – with unpleasant consequences.
Just a few years ago, block brakes were widely used in Western European train combinations – including the SBB. The carriages from the 1980s, for example. Wagons of this type are often seen on additional or relief trains to the south of the Zug railway station,; and if you haven’t actually seen them, you have almost certainly heard them as they come to a halt. The squeaky braking noise of these carriages can certainly be described as deafening.
It is this noise, known as a screeching, that causes the passengers waiting at Zug railway station to cover their ears with their hands. The noise is as old as the railway itself. Put simply, it’s simple physics. Railway wheels have a problem in bends: the running wheels, which are mounted on rigid axles, do not travel exactly the same distance. Experts speak of "sliding".
In the German trade magazine "Nahverkehr (Local Transport)", an Austrian lubricating technician reports that a survey in Germany has shown that 91.7% of railway companies take measures to avoid, or at least reduce this annoying noise when travelling in bends. Nevertheless, 83.3% of the people questioned still say they had problems with the curve noise. The expert concludes that the result shows "that either the measures used have been ineffective, or the effective ones have been used incorrectly".
Cannot eliminate the noise, but can reduce it
But the annoyance cannot be easily eliminated, as can be seen in Zug station. To its credit, the SBB has repeatedly focusing on the frequently occurring curve noise in recent years. But the efforts of the SBB in terms of reducing the noise of incoming and outgoing trains of all kinds cannot be described as a resounding success. SBB spokesman Oli Dischoe states: "Lubrication systems cannot eliminate the curve screech at Zug railway station, but can reduce it."
As the SBB spokesman points out, the transport company installed five lubrication systems in 2014. Subsequent measurements have shown that the measures taken led to a reduction in the noise. The extent to which this has take place remains unclear.
The wheels of some trains squeak loudly when entering Zug railway station
Photo: Matthias Jurt (Zug, 07 January 2021)
The curve screech in the western part of the station has certainly decreased since the timetable change on 13 December 2020. The Gotthard trains now run along the Lake Zug East Bank again, and no longer via Rotkreuz. This has significantly reduced train movements in the western part of the station. The new Bombardier double-decker trains have also been passing through the narrow track arch at Zug station since mid-December. These latest multiple units also produce screeching noises when entering and exiting the station.
Research is being carried out in this area
Fortunately for the SBB, complaints about railway noise are rare. Only one had been received up to November last year. Hardly anyone denies that the railway is a rather noisy means of transport. And it is likely to stay that way for some time, as SBB spokesman Oli Dischoe says: "Unfortunately, there is no measure to completely eliminate the curve screech."
From 2019 onwards, the Empa (the Federal Materials Testing Institute) in Dübendorf has been developing a software that can mix the noise from an ensemble of a hundred noises. This computer program can indicate optimisations for the train compositions already in use, as well as for railway systems. Looking to the future, it would also be possible to simulate what, for example, the use of new wheels could achieve. Research into the cause of railway noise is also in the interests of transport companies.