When the train station in Zurich stinks

Oddly enough, there are no reports of bad smells from other underground stations. Are Zurich noses just more sensitive?

These noses definitely don’t smell anything: a composition by the SBB in Zurich’s Löwenstrasse underground station.

Adrian Baer / NZZ

It stinks at Zurich main station. For weeks, travelers have been reporting a disgusting smell of faeces and rotten eggs in the Löwenstrasse underground station. This is the heart of the cross-city link that opened in 2014, a two-billion-franc project of the century of national importance.

The media are happy about the summer slump topic, but they don’t quite agree on how bad it really is. For the Tamedia newspapers, “it smells a bit strong”, for “20 minutes” it “stinks a lot”.

The SBB reacted with a poster that they put up at the exits. In four languages ​​it says that the cleaning has been intensified and that the cause will be rectified as soon as possible, “thank you for your understanding, thank you for your understanding”.

As the culprit, one main suspect is in the foreground: It is the FV-Dosto. The “long-distance double-decker train” is actually the new flagship express train of the SBB, but it almost always causes problems. The tilting technology does not work properly, passengers speak of the “shaker train”. And now it is also polluting the air in one of the most modern and expensive train stations in Switzerland.

The reason lies, such as the “look” has reported, at the modern toilet of the Dosto. These functioned like small sewage treatment plants. Liquid components in the waste water would be cleaned by bacteria, heated and drained during the journey – actually outside of train stations. But these mobile bioreactors are overwhelmed by the increased number of passengers, which is why there are unpleasant odors.

But it’s not just the modern trains and the warm weather that make the underground stink. The Dosto were only gradually introduced from 2018, but undesirable vapors had already occurred at Löwenstrasse station before that. The “Tagblatt der Stadt Zürich” turned up its nose in March 2016. It stinks of faeces, but not always and not always in the same sections.

The SBB also said at the time that the toilets on the trains were responsible for the bad smell. However, unlike the Dosto, it was not about overwhelmed bacteria, but about the exhaust air from the toilets. If someone flushes the toilet on the train, the ventilation is automatically activated and some of the air flows outside.

An ice cream with a «taste from here»

As everywhere in the city, the train station stinks a bit more in summer than in the bitterly cold January. “It smells now and then for other reasons, such as often on very hot days,” says SBB media spokesman Martin Meier. “Even we are not always spared from it.”

However, it doesn’t stink all the time at Löwenstrasse station. In any case, on Friday morning shortly after eight o’clock the coast is clear. It smells, you are in a tunnel, very slightly musty, nothing more. There is no difference between individual sectors and the two platforms. The ground between the rails is dry except for a few small puddles.

It’s busy. S-Bahn and long-distance trains run in and out every minute. Those who travel to Bern, Thun, Spiez and Brig with the IC 8 will wait in the underground station, as will those who only want to get to Pfäffikon with the S 8 via Wollishofen. Only one or two people waiting wear a mask. A poster advertises local ice cream with the slogan “Ice cold refreshment. With taste from here.».

Even in the second large underground station at Zurich main station, the one under Museumsstrasse, it doesn’t exactly smell like a sewage canal. The S-Bahn through station, which opened in 1989, looks darker than its modern counterpart a little further south. But even in the niches under the escalators, it’s pretty clean for a S-Bahn stop.

Here, on platforms 41 to 44, no Dosto or other long-distance trains operate, only S-Bahn trains with toilets with closed circuits. However, says SBB spokesman Meier, trains with bioreactors would also be arriving. To remove the dirt, both underground stations are cleaned several times a week.

When there was still toilet paper on the sleepers

In the early afternoon, when it’s now 26 degrees warm in the city of Zurich, the nose still can’t find anything out of the ordinary. In the Löwenstrasse underground station, the smell may be a little stronger than upstairs in the shopping hall in front of the perfumeries and bakeries, but not nearly as intense as in train or underground stations abroad.

In the past, when the S-Bahn still had open outhouses, it must have been very different. It wasn’t that long ago: the “Blick am Abend” newspaper reported in 2010 about toilet paper and worse on the railway sleepers in the Museumsstrasse station. It was actually forbidden to use the toilet while the train was stopping at the station, but this could not be enforced.

In general, traveling by train used to be a much greater adventure, also in terms of smell. Half of the cars were reserved for smokers, there was no air conditioning, and even the electric locomotives gave off their very own oily-metallic smell, not to mention the steam locomotives.

In 2000 there were even scented tickets: as part of an advertising campaign, tickets were sold that smelled of detergent. However, the campaign was not continued at the time because some passengers had reacted negatively to the scent, SBB said. In addition, for some employees at the counter, the constant smelling of a certain odor was a burden.

When the train station smells of wanderlust

Maybe commuters just need to get into the underground station with a different mindset. And perceive it as the NZZ described it in a 1974 portrait of Zurich main station: “First of all, there is the smell, this specific mixture of iron and dust and that inexplicable component that almost turns the smell into a perfume. If you were greedy, you could say the train station smelled of wanderlust.”

It is possible that the noses of the people of Zurich are just particularly finely tuned. Actually, there are platforms deep underground, and not just at Zurich main station. The stops at Kloten and Geneva airports and the S-Bahn station in Stettbach are also underground and are plagued by trains with more or less functioning bioreactors. From there, however, says SBB spokesman Meier, there have been no reports of bad smells to date.

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