Overland transport

A container freight train travelling through a mountainous landscape.
With the Overland Transport Agreement, the EU recognised the shift of freight transport from road to rail. © Daniel Friedlos

The 1999 Overland Transport Agreement opened up the road and rail transport market between Switzerland and the European Union. It applies to the carriage of both goods and passengers. The agreement also formed the contractual basis for the 2001 introduction of the heavy goods vehicle charge (HGVC). This charge is an important instrument in the modal shift of freight from road to rail and contributes to the financing of railway infrastructure.

The 1999 Overland Transport Agreement provides for a coordinated transport policy between Switzerland and the EU. The aim is to meet the demands of increased mobility and a steadily rising volume of freight traffic. The agreement does this by deregulating sections of the transport market. It also addresses environmental concerns, in particular by promoting rail transport and preventing diversionary traffic. 

Shift of trans-European freight transport from road to rail

The 1980s and 1990s saw a sharp rise in the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the Alps. The HGVC, levied since 2001 on all heavy goods vehicles using Swiss roads, has helped to stem this increase. In accordance with the polluter pays principle, the HGVC is calculated according to the distance travelled, the vehicle's gross laden weight and the emissions class.  

In signing the Overland Transport Agreement, the EU agreed to the progressive introduction of the HGVC and thereby also Switzerland's policy of promoting a modal shift of freight from road to rail. The completion of the NRLA project and its infrastructure, which includes the Gotthard Base Tunnel, is likely to further reverse the trend in transalpine heavy goods vehicles.

Under the Overland Transport Agreement, Swiss hauliers can also transport goods from one EU country to another ('Swiss home trade'). The only exception to market deregulation is the practice known as cabotage, i.e. transport between two points in the same country by a foreign haulier, for example from Paris to Nice or from Bern to Zurich. 

Timeline

  • 2005–17 Adjustments to the HVGC (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2017)
  • 01.06.2002 Entry into force of the Overland Transport Agreement
  • 21.05.2000 Approval of the Overland Transport Agreement in the popular vote on Bilaterals I (67.2% in favour)
  • 21.06.1999 Signing of the Overland Transport Agreement (as part of Bilaterals I)