When I took up my secondary residency in Switzerland three years ago, I knew the stories about Swiss quality. But I did not know then how close I would be able to watch the execution of this phenomena in real life.
At the first picture you see our street a few years before we moved in; we are living in the white house in the middle. Cute little apartment, and for Swiss housing standards at a moderate price, since it is next to a busy railway track. But I grew up in a house next to a railway track where all the Dutch coal train passed by: nightly cargo trains do not stop me from sleeping, although I have to close doors and windows during conference calls and hangouts.
More than two years ago, I can back from my primary residence and found they had dug up the road you see at the first picture, up to a mile upwards. They were replacing all the pipes, sewage, water, electricity, gas, phone and whatever more could be there under the tarmac. Fine, I thought, while I wept the mud off my shoes: this must be Swiss quality. I was prepared to survive the nuisance. And although they occupied all parking spaces in the street for their construction material, we were fortunate enough to have a private spot.
Summer came, and our life became really dusty, and work did not seem to make progress. Not surprisingly, I thought, they want to deliver quality, and you cannot see pipes in isolation: they have to be connected to other pipes. But almost, as I thought they were closing the chantier, as they call it here, a new concrete mill appeared at the parking lot opposite our house.
Next to our house runs a little creek, ending in lake Geneva. And whether is was connected to the pipes or not, suddenly a new crew of workers appeared, starting to renovate the little bridge. You see the bridge at the second picture. And while the concrete mill is now long gone, it is amazing how much dust it can produce, how much noise, and how long it takes to fix the tunnel underneath a bridge, when you want to do a quality job.
We were happy when the concrete mill was dismantled, but surprisingly enough, the chantier did not disappear. We got a polite letter from the local government explaining they were going to replace a second bridge over the railway, you just see very small at the first picture. The Swiss railways were planning to use double-deck trains on the track passing our house, so the bridge had to be demolished for safety reasons. Some neighbors complained, since they had already seen those double-deck trains on the railway. Those were tests, explained the patient government, and the height of our bridge was just a few centimeters out of line with the Swiss safety standards. So, they took the whole bridge down and started to replace it with a new one.
Quite amazing, the number of heavy trucks you need to take away an old stone bridge, and bring in a new one. Not to talk about the time it takes. Fortunately, after each demolishing phase, or street looks yet a bit better after new tarmac has been put in place.
Last month the new bridge was almost done. But by then we had already seen signs of new construction taking place just at the other side of the railway track. At the third picture you see behind the tunnel in the middle of the third picture, at the end of the parking lot. It is the access to a convenient footpath to Lausanne railway station. The extensive cutting of trees had already suggested another overhaul in our neighborhood of a five hundred square meters. And even worse, new traffic regulations signaled our parking space would be taken over again by the construction company that had been working for almost two years on our street.
And so they came, and have dug up the last hundred square meters, the parking lot, the only part they did not yet take on. Now, when I watched out of the window, I could actually see how hard it is to make a road. Sometimes you actually have to open and close the same section of the road three, four times! Men with meters, satellite-connected measurement tools keep on running around, while a specialized company tries to stay ahead with all the traffic signs needed in a continuously changing situation.
This morning, the tarmac machines have arrived yet again in full force (last picture, from out balcony with view on the parking lot). Quality will be better, and a smarter design makes it possible for more cars to be parked here. And from our experience we know: when the tarmac machines have arrived, most is over.
So, we wonder, when we possibly arrive back at the end of August, which new project to improve Swiss quality will have embarked on us? Because in more than two years we have learn Swiss quality is not an end target, it is a process, an never-ending process.
So, I do have some suggestions for improvement, but will politely shut up. I’m sure they are already discussed in the local democratic channels for five years.
(Most pictures: courtesy of Google Streetview)