Alternatives to the Use of Glyphosate at Train Stations and in the Swiss Rail Network

SBB Gleisbegrünung

Vegetation in the track area must not impede rail traffic and must therefore be controlled. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) use glyphosate for this purpose but wish to restrict usage to a minimum. They have therefore charged Agroscope with investigating alternative strategies such as the targeted greening of verges and peripheral areas and the use of hot water to control vegetation.

Although protecting biodiversity is a top priority, plants sometimes grow where they are not wanted. Consequently, for the sake of safety and the long service life of rail tracks as well as to prevent operational disruptions, track installations must usually be kept clear of plants. Worldwide, rail companies are under public and political pressure to make their operations greener, and particularly to cut back on herbicide use. Since the early 1990s and after the atrazine ban, glyphosate has been the only weed-control agent approved for use in the Swiss rail sector. Although the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) account for just 1 to 2 per cent of glyphosate use in Switzerland, they are nonetheless the single biggest consumer of the herbicide.

Within the scope of the Alternatives to Herbicide Action Plan, the SBB are making numerous efforts to promote alternative products and restrict the use of chemical agents to an absolute minimum. In 2023, an SBB pilot project in Switzerland’s ‘Mitte’ region discontinued the use of glyphosate, relying instead on mechanical measures to control vegetation in the track area. The aim is to carry on reducing glyphosate application rates, and henceforth to use the herbicide in exceptional cases only.

This reduction can only happen while safeguarding operational and personal safety. Like the SBB, other rail companies such as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (DB) and France’s national railway operator SNCF are looking into various alternative strategies for (essential) vegetation control. These range from conventional methods such as novel bioherbicides to exotic-sounding approaches such as grazing by sheep, goats and ponies.

In addition to running several other innovative projects on alternative vegetation control with various partners in Switzerland, the SBB are working with Agroscope which is also involved in the Swiss Confederation’s Plant Protection Product Action Plan to investigate alternatives such as the greening of maintenance lanes and peripheral areas, and to study the efficacy of hot-water applications.

Project Manager

Last modification 29.02.2024

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