Swiss Railways train in Zurich Station
The map has been extracted from the Railway Map of Europe with kind permission of the publishers.
You can purchase copies of the full map, as well as rail timetables, from The European Railway Timetable website
The Swiss may have inflicted the cuckoo clock on us but their railway system is the envy of the world. An entire railway network built around the concept of Taktfahrplan (even-interval timetable) giving reliable, punctual connections to travellers. Where there is no rail connection, often a Swiss Postbus service will be there for you (see link below). The major operator is SBB/CFS (Swiss Federal Railways) but there are other major players such as BLS (Bern Lotschberg Simplon), Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and Rhaetian Railways – these latter two run on one-metre narrow-gauge lines in especially challenging and mountainous parts of the country including perhaps the most famous tourist train ride in Europe, the Glacier Express, between St Moritz and Zermatt. Now another tourist train the Golden Pass Express runs through as a direct service between Montreux and Interlaken thanks to an innovative gauge changer at Zweisimmen. German is spoken by 70% of the population as their native tongue while the remainder speak French, Italian or, in the canton of Grisons, Romansch, which is a Latinate language, related to French and Italian but with grammatical and spelling differences.
Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Zurich HBf) is the main city station and largest in the country with tracks on several levels, shopping malls, restaurants and cafes. Also there is good access to an intensive tramway system throughout the city. Travelling west towards Bern is the only section of high-speed track in the country, accessed just after leaving Olten: it is unlikely that much more will be built owing to the very nature and density of the countryside in the populated areas of the north and west of the country.
Basel is a mainly Swiss City but has suburbs in both France and Germany, with a number of cross-border services. There is an extensive metre-gauge tram network which also extends into France.
THE GOTTHARD BASE TUNNEL has been closed to all traffic since the 10th August 2023 owing to a freight train derailment: all passenger traffic now is being diverted via the classic route with subsequent delays to journey times. Freight traffic may be able to continue to use one of the tunnel bores on single line usage basis but both bores are unlikely to be open to passenger traffic until early 2024.
RESERVATIONS. are compulsory on international express trains and can also be made on domestic InterCity and EuroCity services but are unlikely to be needed owing to their density and frequency
TICKETS can be bought on line, at stations or from machines at stations. The machines are easy to use and always offer a choice of English, French, German or Italian. The Swiss TravelCard enables travel throughout the country on most rail, bus and lake services.
CYCLES: If you want to take your bike with you on a short journey and load it onto the train yourself, your bike will need a ticket too. Buy a 2nd class ticket for the single or return journey at the reduced/half fare for your bike. (Please note: you will also need a ticket for yourself for the journey.) A Bike Day Pass for CHF14 per bike per day may offer better value on longer routes. Note that bike space reservations are compulsory on certain InterCity trains from 21 March to 31 October.
INTERRAIL passes are widely accepted, including the Zurich S-bahn. and the Interrail pass can be used on the main rail systems with discounts being offered on funiculars, narrow gauge lines and other mountain railways. Reservations may be necessary on long-distance and high-speed trains.
OPEN ACCESS SERVICES: BLS (see above) is effectively an open-access service but is by no means a newcomer.
ONWARD TRAVEL: Public transport is very well integrated and it is possible to buy multimodal passes. There are seven urban tram systems but the trolleybus is much more common with systems in fourteen towns and cities around the country. The Postbus is by far the most common form of local transport.
DISABLED ASSISTANCE: The English language SBB website has plenty of information. When searching use “disability” rather than “mobility”. SBB Call Center Handicap. You can reserve free assistance for boarding and alighting when travelling by train. Please make reservations by telephone at least 1 hour before you require the assistance, and reservations using the order form at least 12 hours beforehand. For travel abroad: at least 48 hours in advance. Call 0800 007 102 toll-free in Switzerland (from 6am to 10.30pm). From abroad 0044 0800 007 102 or use the link below which includes an online application form for assistance.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL: French Railways(SNCF) run TGV services from Geneva, Lausanne, Basel and Zurich towards Paris. Swiss Railways (SBB) run Eurocity services to Milan and Venice. Austrian Railways (ÖBB) run Railjet services to Innsbruck, Salzburg & Vienna. German Railways (DB) run IC and ICE services from Zurich, Berne, Interlaken and Basel to destinations in Germany. There is also an international ferry service (passenger and road vehicle) connecting Switzerland to Germany (Friedrichshafen to Romanshorn) across Bodensee (Lake Constance). ÖBB run NIGHTJET services between Zurich, Hamburg, Berlin, Graz and Vienna and with partners between Zurich, Budapest, Split, Zagreb and Rijeka (see link below).
The principality has four stations on the line from Feldkirch (Austria) to Buchs (Switzerland) served by a basic local commuter service operated by ÖBB Mondays to Fridays. Long-distance trains between Switzerland and Austria pass straight through non stop.
DS August 2023