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Rail Travel

Switzerland - Rail Travel

The Swiss rail network is world famous for its punctuality. The railway line network is extensive and not only connects the major towns and cities with some of the most remote and high altitude train stations in Europe, but also connects Switzerland to the rest of the continent with high-speed services. Visitors can enjoy some exceptional scenery in style from panoramic windows on the Bernina Express, GoldenPass Line, Glacier Express and William Tell Express.

However, while it is considered a vast improvement on British rail services, for example, the system is not utopian. Urban services are crowded at peak times and standards of cleanliness, though still good when compared to European neighbours, are not kept as high as previously. Night trains in cities can attract rowdy groups and the Swiss have a reputation among expats for being very pushy on boarding trains and other public transport. Older trains are poorly ventilated which can make them uncomfortable in hot weather.

You have a choice of two classes on Swiss trains, first and second. You will find the seating more spacious and comfortable in first class with fewer seats occupying the same floor space, and on busy trains it can be more peaceful too in first class carriages, making working or simply relaxing on the move easier. Smoking is forbidden on all Swiss rail services. Note that a special ticket must be bought for dogs larger than 30cm or those not otherwise contained in a travel container.

The Swiss railway service is known as SBB for German speakers, CFF in French-speaking areas and FFS for Italian speakers. Regardless of the regional name, you will soon become familiar with the red logo featuring a double-headed white arrow combined with the Swiss cross on the right side. The SBB website is a comprehensive resource for information on all aspects of rail travel in Switzerland and beyond, and is available in English. Here you will find timetables and journey planners, plus a Ticket Shop for buying your tickets online and making reservations. At stations, staff live up to their employer's reputation for efficiency and also tend to have very good English language skills. They will be able to help with any rail-related queries you may have. Poster-sized timetables are displayed on large boards in station buildings and on platforms.

There are virtually no urban underground rail systems equivalent to the Tube or Subway in Switzerland. Currently the only exception is Lausanne which has just two metro lines at present and a third line under discussion. There are some private rail companies operating in Switzerland but generally these are integrated into the network and a travelcard or rail card will be valid on their services in addition to those of the SBB. Swiss mountain railways require separate tickets.

The SBB offer a range of tickets and travelcards. These include the following:

GA Travelcard (G: Generalabonnement, F: Abonnement général)
This allows you to board any rail service operated by the SBB and most other rail services, plus other public transport. Choose from first or second class. The travelcard is available for individuals, and you can add additional partner or family cards at a discounted rate. Reduced fares apply for children, young people (under 25 years) and seniors (over 65), plus for registered students up to the age of 30 and for disabled persons of any age. There is a special GA Travelcard available for dogs. You can either buy an annual ticket or pay for a 4-month ticket and then add additional months as required.

Half-Fare Travelcard (G: Halbtax-Abos, F: Abonnements demi-tarif)
With this travelcard you pay one annual fee for the card (2 and 3 year cards are also available) and then receive a 50% discount on every journey. You can choose from first or second class and it covers the whole public transport network in Switzerland.

Point-to-point season tickets
These simply cover a regular journey from one station to another, available where the route is not covered by a regional travelcard. Available in first or second class, for a week, a month or a year. Reductions apply for young people.

Regional Travelcards
Several urban areas have unified transport networks where a travelcard combines pre-paid SBB rail travel with other local public transport such as trams, buses and boats. The transport network in Zurich is the ZVV, in Geneva it is unireso.

Travelling without a valid ticket will result in a fine upwards of CHF 75 and you will have your name and address details noted by the SBB. You will also have to pay a flat fare of CHF 10 for your journey. Similar fines apply if you travel in first class and hold a second class ticket. Charges increase for repeat offenders.

The SBB have made efforts to make the rail system disability-friendly and continue to improve their services in this respect. In some cases you may find rail travel still presents a challenge, with some trains difficult to board, but staff are available to offer assistance. The freephone 'SBB Call Center Handicap' telephone service offers information for disabled passengers and allows you to make a request in advance for assistance at the station.

Useful Resources

Swiss rail operator

Map and details of Lausanne's metro system

SBB: Information for disabled passengers

SBB: Call Center Handicap
Tel: 0800 007 102 (freephone, 6am to 10pm)
Tel: +41 (0)51 225 78 44 (international, charges apply)
Email: mobil@sbb.ch

Read more about this country

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