By vocation

A man with a plan: the timetabler

A man with a plan: the timetabler - By vocation

You could call him the Head of the rolling timetable. Here at the Operations Centre in Landquart is where all the strands come together – and things can get pretty tricky here when the weather wreaks havoc with the points or power supply. Marco Margadant, RhB Head of Timetabling, makes split-second decisions to keep the trains running on time. Punctuality is his absolute top priority. 

Is that a spider’s web or maybe even a sewing pattern laid out on the table of Office 003 at the RhB’s administrative HQ? Both seem fairly appropriate in relation to the work of Marco Margadant – the company’s senior timetabler. Seated at his computer screen, he is currently pondering how the timetable for the year after next might look: "We are always ahead of time. We have to be, because partners such as SBB or Post-Bus, who guarantee feeder services and connections, also draw up their schedules eighteen months in advance." 


Simulation with a mouse click
With a few clicks he first drafts the graphic timetable, based on a defined concept. A confusing jumble of lines appears on the screen, the rail network so to speak; the first step in drawing up timetables is devoted to the route. "Although, to be precise: top priority always goes to what the customers want – provided it is economically viable. We have to ask ourselves: does it make sense to operate this line and can we generate sufficient capacity?" A new click, new colours: a locomotive and a train formation with carriages have been assigned to the line. Another click, again in a fresh colour: the train now has its very own driver and guards. The task may still involve manual labour, but not like in the old days when all the timetables were drawn by hand in pencil and had to be pinned onto the wall. Now, standard software takes care of everything. "If my PC crashes, all I can do is fetch the post. I’m useless without it." But if you think Margadant spends all his time in front of his PC, you’d be wrong: 50 per cent of his working time is spent in coordination meetings – with colleagues from the Production side, or with members of the Human Resources department. 

«We are always ahead of time. We have to be – just like our partners.»
Marco Margadant
Punctual, punctual, punctual!

Punctual, punctual, punctual!

Marco Margadant has every right to be proud: last year, 95.7 per cent of RhB trains arrived at their destination either on time or with a delay of just five minutes at the most.

Learning from scratch
Margadant learned his craft from scratch. Initially he worked with the RhB from 1974 to 1978 as a mechanical draughtsman at the companyʼs works in Landquart. After training to become an engine driver in 1979, he drove trains across the entire network until 1990, including a year on the mountainous track from Chur to Arosa. "That was really interesting. Technically, as we were operating with a different voltage – 2,400 VDC. And in practical terms, as the special traction units had a tendency to malfunction and the track itself isn’t without challenges. In winter we often came across surprises: a fallen tree that cut overhead power lines or snow masses blocking the way." In the meantime Margadant knows almost every sleeper on the 384 kilometres of track. In 1990 he began training other engine drivers, in 1995 becoming head of this area. He has a passion for the 1,500 to 3,200 kW RhB machines. "Being a train driver is a kind of disease. And even as a timetabler, I still like to visit my colleagues on the front lines." Margadant, who has been Head of Production (or more properly: Network Planning and Control) since 2001, is convinced that "travelling the routes in person is the best way to identify the trouble spots in scheduling terms so that I can plan more realistically." 

«Travelling along the routes in person lets me identify the trouble spots.»
Marco Margadant

Headache over six minutes
It’s a matter of only a few minutes when it comes to Margadant’s highest maxim (alongside safety): punctuality, punctuality, punctuality. A target achieved in 96 per cent of cases, where RhB trains run within the permitted tolerance of five minutes. It becomes tricky when work on the line calls for slow speeds. That’s what eats up the most time. Together with infrastructure specialists, he must knowingly factor in delays months in advance to ensure his plan works out. The two interchange stations, Landquart and Chur, where passengers have to catch their SBB connections, are key. Margadant allows for a buffer time of six per cent and a changeover time of just six minutes. And every now and again this otherwise calm man can lose his patience. "My job is actually a thankless task: I’m always having to tread on other people’s toes. But that cannot be avoided. The structure must stand – by whatever means necessary." And if the worst actually comes to the worst, Margadant recalls a tip he was given by a high-ranking police officer during a stint at the World Economic Forum in Davos: "Tomorrow is another day." As was the case in 1999, for example, the winter of avalanches where the timetablers didn’t know from one day to the next what was happening, or rather what was running. 

He takes a sporting view of special days
Speaking of challenging moments: when does Marco Margadant really start firing on all cylinders? "When I can draw up my own timetable. For example, during the Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos", is the answer. That’s when this visionary from Chur produces an interim timetable – with planned delays! "Leaving nothing to chance, of course, but following an exact special timetable of whose details customers are not – and don’t need to be – aware. The main thing is that we have the expected delays under control." Margadant loves having a role to play at major sporting events of this kind, where a large number of passengers require transport. It gives him the freedom to do as he likes, to his heart’s content. 

Two ideal jobs

Two ideal jobs

Daniel Hauser works for RhB with just as much passion as Marco Margadant – but as well as being a train driver at RhB, the resident of Einsiedeln is also a pilot for Edelweiss Air.