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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 87 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Swiss train news and updates for 2024

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Carolyn Schönafinger

Gruezi and welcome to episode 87 of the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast.  I’m your host Carolyn Schonafinger and I’m thrilled to have you joining me today.

In this episode we are welcoming back a regular guest, Andy Nef, from Swiss Travel System.  I know many of you are planning to travel around Switzerland in the coming months by public transport so Andy is going to update us on a couple of changes for 2024 and some new experiences that you might like to include in your travel plans.

Andy is also going to tell us about some of the lesser-known but no less scenic train journeys that you might like to experience. 

Before we hear from Andy, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the team at Switzerland Tourism, sponsors of the podcast. Their website myswitzerland.com is packed with inspiration and helpful tips about planning a trip to Switzerland, so do go and check it out.

If you need the train ride of a lifetime, you need Switzerland.

Now, let’s welcome Andy and hear what wonderful train rides he’s going to tempt us with today.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Hi, Andy. Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. It’s great to have you here again.


Andy Nef

Hello. Good morning. I’m very happy to be here again.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Thank you so much. Now, for those listeners who aren’t familiar with your voice, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?


Andy Nef

With great pleasure. My name is Andy and I represent Swiss Travel System. My responsibilities are overseas markets, and one of them is Australia, but also many other countries like Japan, Korea, the Middle East, and the UK.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Great. Now you’ve told us lots about the Swiss Travel System on previous episodes of the podcast. Many listeners will be familiar with the different trains. I know that a lot of our listeners will be planning to travel around Switzerland by train in 2024. Are there any changes or new experiences, perhaps, that they should be aware of?


Andy Nef

There is always something new in Switzerland. There is always something happening. We are still trying to improve the Swiss travel system, the Swiss Public Transport Network. Unfortunately, the news I have prepared now are not that good. We are going to increase the prices for next year. Well, I think it happens all over the world at the moment. Things are getting more expensive.


Andy Nef

Well, same here, public transport, we have to increase the prices. Production costs are just higher than they used to be. Always keep in mind that especially the trains in Switzerland run on electricity. We have all learned in the past, let’s call it few years, that especially the energy prices have gone up very much. There will be an increase for next year, especially for the Swiss Travel System products of about 5.9%. That’s the average increase. Well, people may say, Wow, that’s a huge increase. But I have to say that we have not gone up for six years now. Keeping that in mind, I think the increase is quite moderate again.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah, for sure. That will obviously apply to the Swiss Travel Pass, the consecutive day and the Flex Pass. Are there any changes to the price of the Swiss Half Fare Card?


Andy Nef

No, the Swiss Half Fare Card will remain the same. Same as the Swiss Family Card will remain free of charge, as it used to be. The price increase will also apply to point-to-point tickets in Switzerland. So, that’s for all public transport companies. I mean, it’s a Swiss-wide price increase. It’s not only one company increasing the prices, it’s the whole public transport increasing. Though the prices for the point-to-point tickets are not going up that much.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay. So for people that are listening that are thinking, I’m traveling next year. I wonder if I buy my Swiss Travel Pass now, can I get it at this year’s price? I’m thinking that that is not possible, am I right?


Andy Nef

That depends actually on where exactly they buy it, which system is exactly used, in which country. There are so many factors. So if you want to come to Switzerland, come to Switzerland.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Exactly. And regardless, even though the Swiss Travel Pass might be increasing by 5.9 %, it’s still a great value pass, as I’ve found out on many occasions. If you’re doing quite a lot of travel, if you’re using the panoramic trains, there’s some mountain excursions that you get included for free. So it really is great value and so easy to use.


Andy Nef

I think so, yes.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah. All right. So what other new things are happening in Switzerland next year in regards to trains, trams, buses or boats or cableways?


Andy Nef

Right, there are a few news coming up for next year. There are some new product, some product improvements for next year. What I would like to start with is a product I could experience myself. That’s the nostalgic class of the Gornergrat Railways. Have you heard of that?


Carolyn Schönafinger

I have seen a picture of it, actually, yes.


Andy Nef

This is, as it said, it’s a train which is very chic but also nostalgic. They have taken this old train, which used to go up Gornergrat more than 50 years ago, and they have refurbished these old power units in a very nice, mountain-chic style. This is really a special experience now. This is running once per week at the moment. There is only space for 22 guests in a very special atmosphere. There is a local guide traveling with you.


Andy Nef

What makes the whole thing very unique is the culinary delight you get on the way. So you start in a hotel in Zermatt with a very nice operative, with some local specialties, then you move on to the train, you go all the way up to the Gornergrat. There you have a three course meal in the restaurant on the top accompanied by matching local wines. There will be a break for dessert on the way down. This is really a full day experience, a great thing to do.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Sounds wonderful. And only 22 guests, so yes, that would be quite an exclusive experience.


Andy Nef

Very exclusive. Every person gets a window seat. The interior of this nostalgic train is really special. I liked it very much, yes.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, sounds great. All right, what else is there?


Andy Nef

There is even more happening on the Gornergrat. They have taken one of the very old original locomotives. They have painted it in golden colour. They have placed it in the most beautiful spots on top of the Gornergrat, and this is now the Golden Spot for the point. So you have this shiny golden historical locomotive with the Matterhorn in the back.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Wonderful.


Andy Nef

Yes. But there is even more. As you know, there are so many mountains in Switzerland. And of course, there is all these mountain top excursions, they try to improve their services as well. So for example, the Jungfrau Railways, they have some new attractions as well. There is now on the Grindelwald First. I don’t know, have you been to the First, Carolyn?


Carolyn Schönafinger

I have, yes. I know that this first thing that you’re going to talk about was opening the week after I was there this year. I didn’t get to experience it myself. I saw it, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t go on to it. So would you like to tell people what we’re talking about?


Andy Nef

Absolutely. So you see, this is the perfect example. There is always reason for coming back to Switzerland because there are always new things to explore. Here we go. This is the first First View. Actually, the name of the mountain is First, not First. Well, welcome to the German language. They have this new vantage platform on the First summit. From this platform, you actually have stunning views of the Bernese Alps. You see, I don’t know if you can tell you all these famous mountain peaks.


Andy Nef

And if you just go across the valley, there you have the new Eiger Walk of Fame. This will open next year in spring. And this is a hiking, well, call it a walking, hiking trail on the foot of the Eigur North Face. So there you can either do a two and a half hour circular trail or you can walk down to the Kleine Scheidegg.


Carolyn Schönafinger

That sounds great.


Andy Nef

There is always something new, as I said, and so many different things to experience in all kinds of categories. But there is also news on Mount Rigi. Mount Rigi in central Switzerland, they are going to introduce some winter experiences.


Andy Nef

There are some unique winter offers for individuals and for groups. For example, you can have a fondue party in the world’s oldest cogwheel car, or you can have a horse drawn carriage ride in the winter followed by a fondue. They have quite big collection of vintage rolling stock. They make that running in winter, especially to attract people. Why not going up the hill, the mountain in one of these vintage trains?


Carolyn Schönafinger

Definitely something quite unique.


Andy Nef

Yes. Well, there’s even news from the very southern part of Switzerland from the Ticino because the Centovalli Railway for me is still off the beaten track, one of the most beautiful train rides in Switzerland and Italy, by the way, because it’s a border crossing scenic journey. They are celebrating 100 years and there is an official kick off now in November. They are going to celebrate this 100-year existence of the railway with different kinds of activities.


Carolyn Schönafinger

That’s one train I’ve been looking at for a number of years now, so I’m hoping to include that next year when I go to Switzerland. It sounds quite unique. For you to say that it’s one of the most beautiful train rides, it must be pretty impressive, I’d imagine.


Andy Nef

I was very un-Swiss. I was very un-Swiss because we always should try to keep neutral, right?


Carolyn Schönafinger

You should. You’re really going out on a limb there and telling us how beautiful it is.


Andy Nef

No, as I said, there are so many beautiful trips, but for me, the Centovalli is still off the beaten track in a way. Yes. But there is also very good news from the panoramic trains from the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express. You remember we have some challenges, especially this year since so many people are traveling to Switzerland right now. We had a great comeback after the whole pandemic crisis. I think the demand for Switzerland is as high as never before. Well, that also has a certain impact on the panoramic trains.


Andy Nef

Well, it’s widely known that the capacity has reached its limits on some of the premium panoramic trains and that there are just no more seats available throughout the year. The good thing is that now Bernina Express and Glacier Express are increasing the number of trains running in winter.


Andy Nef

There is going to be additional trains running. There is a Tirano – Sankt Moritz and and Sankt Moritz – Tirano train, additionally, on the weekends on the Bernina Express line throughout the winter. And on Glacier Express, there is now two connections per day going from Zermatt to St. Moritz and back. Previously, it was only one in winter, not two. So that’s really good news to accommodate all the people who want to travel on those beautiful train lines.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah, okay. So that’s obviously great news for people that are traveling in winter or can change their travel dates to go in winter so that they can take advantage of it. But if people are traveling at other times of the year and they can’t secure seat reservations on those panoramic trains, are there any other alternative trains that they could consider?


Andy Nef

That’s a very good point and I’m well prepared to answer this question.


Carolyn Schönafinger

I thought you would be.


Andy Nef

That’s really, in my opinion, a very important thing. As I have mentioned various times in the past and in this episode we have been doing together, there are so many beautiful train rides in Switzerland. It’s not only the premium panoramic trains. Of course, riding on one of these premium panoramic trains is really a special experience, but should they be fully booked there are alternatives and I would really like to show you what these alternatives are. For example, everybody was talking about the GoldenPass Express this year. You remember the introduction of this new train where people don’t have to change anymore in, which is going straight from Montreux to Interlaken with changing the gauge in between. Now, there is only limited availability on that train because it’s not that long, the train, right?


Andy Nef

There are, I think, five coaches, if I remember correctly. But the good thing is there are still the existing trains are still running, the ones which cannot change the gauge. Those trains are running from between Montreux and Zweisimmen in both directions. These are the Golden Pass Panoramics, right? Where you have the VIP front seats, where you have the panoramic windows, where you have some drink and snack service on board.


Andy Nef

These are running in between. Should the Golden Pass Express be fully booked this is definitely an alternative. Or the Golden Pass Belle Epoque as well. Remember, this is the beautiful train which is in the Belle Epoque style. They have these cars, these coaches which have been refurbished in a way they look like in the early 20th century with all these brass and velvet and wood. This is really chic. This is traveling in style. This is another great alternative to the Golden Pass Express.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah. It’s reminiscent of the Orient Express, if people have seen and just the beautiful, really deep seats that you sit in and they feel super luxurious, even though they’re from way back when.


Andy Nef

Yeah. But always keep in mind these are modern trains. They are just… They are in the old style, so absolutely safe, absolutely comfortable. Traveling in style, enjoy the beautiful scenery with a glass of Swiss white wine in your hands. What else could you think of?


Carolyn Schönafinger

Not much better than that. What’s another alternative scenic train route that we could try?


Andy Nef

Yes. One other I would really like to mention is the BLS Express, Regio Express, Lötschberger, a difficult name, Lötschberg, I know. But this is the train which connects Brig with Bern, right? So the regular intercity trains, the fast trains, the intercity trains and the Eurocity trains connecting Milan with Bern, Brig with Bern, and Zurich, they are all going through the Lötschberg base tunnel. The Lötschberg base tunnel, that’s a pretty long tunnel, 39 kilometres long, which was opened quite a few years back.


Andy Nef

Well, this makes travelling between the north and the south of Switzerland between the Bern and the Valais pretty fast, of course, but you lose all the sceneries in the tunnel. I mean, it’s 15 minutes of pitch black darkness, but travelling on the old line, which goes across the mountain and through a much shorter tunnel high up in the mountains, is very scenic. That’s where the Regio Express or the Regio Express Lötschberg, enters the game. This is a connection every hour between Brig and Bern. It takes one hour, 45 minutes. You have brand new trains. I was just riding in one of them last month. They are still smelling new, like a new car.


Andy Nef

You have really the state-of-the-art trains with low floor access, with big panoramic windows in first and second class. What I like very much is there is even a restaurant zone. There are snack and coffee vending machines on the train. This is really a scenic alternative. The listeners, you have been traveling across half of the world for coming to Switzerland. You didn’t come that far for enjoying 15 minutes of darkness. You have come here for enjoying sceneries. That’s why I always recommend spend a little bit more time, take maybe the shorter, the longer connection, but you get a reward if the beautiful sceneries you’re travelling through.


Carolyn Schönafinger

I was lucky enough to go on that train this year, not for the whole journey, but just for part of it. And my word, when I got inside that first class carriage, it was like being in business class on a flight. It was just, as you said, so luxurious, so brand new. It was amazing. I took lots of photos because it was just incredible.


Andy Nef

There we are. Yes. And since we are talking about Brig now and I have mentioned the Centovalli Railway before, this again is a great alternative. The Vigezzina Centovalli Railway is actually going from Locarno, Locarno in the Ticino, in the southern part of Switzerland, Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, to Domodossola, and Domodossola is already in Italy. So Centovalli means 100 valleys. This train is really following along a river through this valley, and there are 100 side valleys, which you can see beautiful scenery, small villages nestled on the hill slopes, traditional, houses, and villages. It’s really very much a Mediterranean flair already you get there.


Andy Nef

The whole trip is how to say, there is a train every hour. It takes about two hours. You get into Domodossola, as I said in Italy, beautiful medieval town, nice restaurants. You can take a break there, have a nice lunch, and then continue with the Regio Express Lötschberg. It’s the same trains which are also going down to Domodossola. There is a very good option to combine the Centovalli railway with the Regio Express Lötschberg. This then is a great alternative to the premium panoramic train.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, great option.


Andy Nef

Yes.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Good. Now, what about if we were wanting to go from, say, Zurich or one of the northern or central cities down to the south? Are there any other options there?


Andy Nef

Well, we just had now one option, which is going down to the south. But options I would always keep in mind are actually the PostBuses. The PostBuses are also crossing the Alps in north, south direction or otherwise. Always keep in mind the Swiss Travel System is not always trains, not only trains. It’s train, bus, and boat. We have countless PostBus lines here in Switzerland. One I would explain now is the Palm Express. The Palm Express, we can say, is an alternative to the Bernina Express in a way. The Palm Express is connecting, say St. Moritz with Lugano by comparable postal bus.


Andy Nef

This bus is operating on weekends, Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays, and goes from Saint Moritz through Chiavenna to Lugano. You are crossing the Maloja Pass. The Maloja Pass, as the name of this connection already mentions, Palm Express, you are literally traveling from snow peaked mountains to palm trees. From the snow peaked mountains in the Engadine Valley to Lake Como in Italy. Yes, you are traveling along Lake Como in Italy and then back into Switzerland to Lugano. The whole trip is almost four hours. It’s fully covered by the Swiss Travel Pass. But I recommend to book seats on that connection as well.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, that’s good to know. Any other scenic postal bus routes that you’d like to mention?


Andy Nef

Yes, that’s the Central Alps Passes, PostBus Route. You can actually spend the whole day on a bus by crossing four Alpine passes in Switzerland. What’s different here? The trains are usually not going that high up, the premium panoramic trains. They are not going that high up, but here you’re going almost up to 3,000 metres above sea level. This is a whole different landscape you’re passing through. The whole thing starts in Meiringen. Meiringen is on the route of the Luzern Interlaken Express. In Meiringen, you have the daily departure. You first cross the Grimsel Pass, then you go across the Nufenen Pass, then you go across the Gotthard Pass, and to finish, you cross the Susten Pass. So four alpine crossings in one day, each of them is different, very spectacular roads. Well, that’s again, a different experience fully covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.


Carolyn Schönafinger

And would you have, if you did that entire route in one day, would you have time along the way to stop and get off and look around, or is it more or less a continuous journey?


Andy Nef

It’s more or less a continuous journey. There are toilet breaks in between coffee breaks, toilet breaks, lunch breaks, of course. But you can get off and get on again. So there is only one bus going. You stay on the same bus for the whole day, more or less.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, good to know. All right. Any other nice scenic routes?


Andy Nef

Of course. There is more and more.


Carolyn Schönafinger

There’s always another scenic route in Switzerland.


Andy Nef

There’s always another one. Yeah, I could go on and on and on, but don’t worry, you’re almost done. Okay, so there is Treno Gottardo. Treno Gottardo, well, Gotthard, we have heard that name before. This is probably the most important alpine crossing in Switzerland. It has been very important for centuries. There have been people crossing it with mules, there have been stagecoaches crossing it. Then there has been the railway opened in 1882. Then in 2008, the Gotthard Bay tunnel was opened. You see the importance of this alpine crossing. All the intercity trains and Eurocity trains between Zurich, Lucerne, and Lugano, Ticino, and Milan are going through the Gotthard Base tunnel, which is a 57-kilometer long tunnel. Again, I know what’s coming now. It’s 20 minutes of darkness. That’s what you’re not here for in Switzerland.


Andy Nef

So you have two options. One option is the premium panoramic train. That’s the Gotthard Panorama Express. I have been talking about this product before, the beautiful combination of boats and panoramic train. But the alternative is then the Treno Gottardo, which is running every hour, alternating between Basel and Zurich. It’s Basel, Lucerne, Locarno, or Zurich, Locarno, alternating.


Andy Nef

This is also crossing the Gottardo on the old line, on the scenic line, stopping a few times in between. But again, these are very modern trains. They are painted in a bronze color. They have a bistro area in the middle of the train, again with vending machines where you can get coffee, snacks, et cetera. Again, this is a beautiful alternative. Should the premium panorama train, the Gotthard Panorama Express, be fully booked?


Carolyn Schönafinger

Another thing worth pointing out, I think, is that the time it takes from Zurich to get right down to Locarno, it’s not even three and a half hours, is it? So it just goes to show how quickly you can get from one the top, I guess, more or less, the top of Switzerland to the south.


Andy Nef

Yeah, true. Shows again that Switzerland is a small country, but we’ve quite a few obstacles in between, right?


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yes.


Andy Nef

Yes, and the last train I would like to introduce is the Voarlpen Express. Voralpen, again, a very German name. Voralpen means, if we translate it to English, pre-Alps. So this train is actually traveling along the pre-Alps. Now, what’s the difference between pre-Alps and the Alps? I’d say the Alps, these are the picturesque mountains, the snow-peaked mountains going up to 3, 4,000 meters above sea level, famous peaks like Matterhorn, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, et cetera. The pre-Alps are more like the foothills. Call it the green rolling hills, the mountains which may go up to about 2,000 metres above sea level. A very typical mountain in the pre-Alps is probably Mount Rigi or even Mount Pilatus.


Andy Nef

What I like very much about the scenery of passing through are the green valleys. Voralpen Express is finding its way, meandering through green valleys and traveling along beautiful rivers, going through these rolling hills covered by forests, traveling along many lakes. Many of these valleys are going back to the Ice Age, where the Glaciers have formed them. Beautiful, beautiful sceneries. The train is connecting Saint Gallen in the very east of Switzerland, with Lucerne in central Switzerland.


Andy Nef

You see, again, you can take intercity trains from St. Gallen to Zurich and then from Zurich to Luzern will take about the same time, traveling time, two hours about, or you take the Voralpen Express, which is going straight through these beautiful sceneries. The train is running every hour and the same train sets are used here as on the Gotthard Panorama Express. So again, you have very modern trains with all the you can expect, first class, second class. Just again, a beautiful alternative to the intercity trains in Switzerland.


Carolyn Schönafinger

And all those trains and bus routes that you’ve mentioned, they’re all covered by the Swiss Travel Pass. Is that correct?


Andy Nef

Yes, all of them are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass. Some of them require seat reservations, some can be booked, some cannot even be booked, right? So there we are.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay. Well, there’s some wonderful options there. So folks that are perhaps a little disappointed if they can’t secure their seat reservations on the premium panoramic trains, they don’t need to worry about missing out on the beautiful scenery because as you’ve just told us, there’s lots and lots of other excellent options there for them to choose.


Andy Nef

Yes, absolutely. Also, there is lots of lots of things to experience for repeaters. Should you have come to Switzerland several times like you, Carolyn there is always new things to explore. There are always new trains, new connections you can explore. Don’t stop coming to Switzerland.


Carolyn Schönafinger

No, definitely not. You’ve just made my itinerary planning for next year’s trip even more difficult now because the list of trains to ride on and experiences to enjoy has just got even longer. Thank you for that, Andy.


Andy Nef

Great pleasure. Always.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Well, thank you again for sharing all that with us. It’s been great to have you on the podcast again. And who knows? Hopefully, we’ll see you back here again in 2024.


Andy Nef

Yes. Who knows? Let’s see. Thank you very much, Carolyn, for having me.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Bye-bye. Goodbye.


There is certainly no shortage of scenic train rides in Switzerland regardless of which part of the country you want to visit.  From the Voralpen Express in the east, to the Vigezzina Centovalli Railway in the south, and many in between, there are plenty of reasons for travelling around Switzerland by train.

And why not experience travelling across a mountain pass (or 4) by bus for a totally different perspective?

It’s great to know that all the scenic routes that Andy mentioned today are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.  And even though transport and rail passes prices are increasing for 2024, the Swiss Travel Pass still offers excellent value and convenience for folks who plan to use the Swiss public transport network.

To learn more about the Swiss Travel Pass you can listen to previous episodes of the podcast featuring Andy, and read the detailed guides about this all-in-one ticket for Switzerland on our website.  You’ll find links to those episodes and guides, plus details on where to buy your Swiss Travel Pass, in the show notes at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode87

Thanks again for joining me today.  If you have found this episode helpful and you have a few minutes to spare, I’d be super grateful if you would be so kind as to leave a 5 star rating or review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to this podcast.  This way, we can reach even more travellers who are planning their very own dream trip to Switzerland.  Thanks so much.

Next time, we’re going in search of some of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland that are within easy reach of the major cities.  You won’t want to miss it.

Until then, tschuss!

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.