In July 2017, the Schweizerische Südostbahn (SOB) and SBB (Swiss state railways) decided to start a long-term strategic partnership for managing the long-distance concession for the lines Zürich – Zug – Arth-Goldau – / Basel – Olten – Luzern – via the Gotthard-Panoramastrecke to – Bellinzona – Locarno/Lugano and Bern – Burgdorf – Langenthal – Olten – Zürich – Pfäffikon – Ziegelbrücke – Sargans – Chur.
From December 2020 onwards, the trains on these lines will run under the operational responsibility of SOB, but will be part of the integrated long-distance concession of SBB. For the services mentioned, SOB is compensated by SBB. Travellers will be able to travel from Basel or Zurich via the Gotthard panoramic route without changing trains in Erstfeld. Also new is a direct connection from Bern to Chur.
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According to plan, SOB now invests in new rolling stock for these services, being 11 additional FLIRT EMUs. For this order, SOB decided to take on an option from its 2016 contract for new trains for the Voralpen Express (VAE) line.
Both the VAE trains and the 11 new ones feature the FLIRT 200 exterior design, which is more aerodynamic that the standard FLIRT front cab design. The SOB/SBB trains will have a different branding though, including the logos of both operators, as shown in the image below.