Water is important for SBB in many different ways.
We need fresh water to clean our trains and fill up the tanks in train toilets. We also provide our customers with drinking water at stations and ensure water is available for fire-fighting purposes. And we protect the lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies alongside our tracks from pollution by rail operations.
SBB owns 564 kilometres of freshwater pipes and 453 kilometres of wastewater pipes on railway station premises. It therefore operates a network the size of a large Swiss town. This pipework supplies drinking water to stations, cleaning facilities and workshops. It also removes wastewater and rainwater.
SBB undertakes detailed investigations into drainage and the selection of chemicals used in order to protect bodies of water alongside the railway network. Drinking water in Switzerland is obtained predominantly from underground aquifers. SBB therefore has a special responsibility, since its rail network often runs through the catchment areas of ground water aquifers where special regulations for construction and maintenance are applicable. Important sources of drinking water are protected by sealing the railway tracks.
To protect local residents, the bodies of water alongside railway lines, and also its own maintenance workers, SBB fitted all scheduled trains with vacuum toilets and effluent tanks.
Not long ago, the waste water and faecal matter from open toilets on trains was deposited directly on the track. A total of 2,716 toilets – around 90 percent – have now been fitted with bioreactors or waste tanks. Since the end of 2016, there are only around 180 carriages with open toilets in occasional use, for example for additional services on just a few days of the year. The environmentally friendly bioreactors need only 0.5 litres of water per flush, compared with 9 to 12 litres for domestic toilets.