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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 97 Transcript

May 1, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

15 FAQs about train travel in Switzerland answered!

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

Hello, it’s Carolyn here – welcome to episode 97.  Switzerland is well known for its fantastic public transport system and getting around the country by train, bus and boat is the perfect option for visitors – even those who aren’t used to navigating public transport.

For those of us who are used to getting around daily by car, deciding to solely travel by train on vacation can be a big decision!

Countries like the United States, Canada and Australia are huge and they don’t have the railway infrastructure that Switzerland does so it can be hard to get your head around relying on trains as your sole means of transport.

But, let me say, travelling by train in Switzerland is easy.

I’m sure you’ve got questions, though, so in this episode I thought I’d answer 15 of the most commonly asked questions about travelling by train in Switzerland.

There are numerous articles on holidaystoswitzerland.com about Swiss train travel, and we’ve recorded lots of podcast episodes on the topic, too, so definitely go and check those out.  

The purpose of this episode is to give you quick and concise answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. Why should I use the trains instead of renting a car?

Aside from the benefits to the environment there are many reasons why travelling around Switzerland by train is a great idea.

Firstly, you can forget about the hassles of finding somewhere to park and the expense that goes with it.  As train stations are located in the centre of cities, towns and villages, you’ll be right in the heart of the action when you arrive.  If your hotel or accommodation is located outside the city centre, you can be sure there will – almost always – be a train or bus connection to reach it.

Travelling by train is relaxing and everyone gets to enjoy the view.  There’s no need for a driver to concentrate on the road. 

The Swiss public transport network is extremely efficient and train services are very frequent. With around 5,200km of tracks, you can get wherever you need to by train and connecting modes of transport, and because train stations, bus stops, boat piers and mountain railway stations are almost always within sight of each other, it is easy to transfer from one mode of transport to another. You’ll rarely wait long for any connections for your train trips through Switzerland either.

2. Does Switzerland have any fast trains like the TGV?

Switzerland has a modern fleet of trains across the country but due to the mountainous topography, there are only a couple of high-speed trains and these, mostly, connect Switzerland with other countries.  

These include the TGV Lyria which connects Switzerland and France and the ICE trains which connect Switzerland and Germany.  Within Switzerland these trains reach maximum speeds of 160 kph and 200 kph respectively but the journey distance within Switzerland is short.

If you are travelling on a non-mountainous route such as Geneva to Zurich, you may find yourself onboard one of the tilting trains which can travel at up to 200kph.

In general, though, as Switzerland is a small country, high-speed trains aren’t necessary as you can travel all the way from east to west or from north to south in just a few hours. 

3. Do the trains in Switzerland run on time?

Yes they do! Switzerland is famous for its punctuality and trains are no exception.  In 2022, 92.5% of the trains operating on the Swiss rail network were on time – amazing!

If you’ve got a train to catch, don’t be late getting to the station or you may well find the train departing just as you reach the platform.  That being said, most train lines are serviced by at least hourly services so you shouldn’t have to wait too long for the next train.

4. Should I buy individual tickets or a rail pass?

In most cases, tourists visiting Switzerland will be better off purchasing a Swiss rail pass or half fare card rather than buy Switzerland train tickets individually.

When it comes to purchasing individual tickets for train journeys in Switzerland, there are many variables that determine the price.  The main factor is when you book the tickets as well as the timing of the actual train travel. 

Booking last minute tickets tends to be most expensive, which means you need to be organised well ahead of time if you want to buy the best-value tickets.

You’ll also want to consider if you plan on doing any mountain excursions during your Switzerland travel as these day trips alone can make it well worth your while to purchase a pass.

Regular

SuperSaver – restrictions, up to 70% off

Saver Day Pass – restrictions

Swiss Travel Pass

Regional passes – BO Pass, JTP and Tell Pass

Half Fare Card

I won’t go into all the detail here – if you’d like to know more about each of these passes, I’ll include links in the show notes for this episode.

5. What trains does the Swiss Travel Pass NOT cover?

The Swiss public transport network which consists of trains, trams, buses and boats, will take you to almost everywhere in Switzerland that people live.  This includes mountain villages like Murren and Wengen, and Rigi Kaltbad.  If there are permanent residents in a village or hamlet, you will in most cases, be able to get there by public transport.  

As the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on the entire public transport network across Switzerland, the only trains not fully covered are mountain trains, cable cars and funiculars that travel to non-residential locations.  

Trains to Zermatt – covered / Zermatt to Gornergrat – not covered

Trains to Wengen – covered / Wengen to Jungfraujoch – not covered

Trains to Engelberg – covered / Engelberg to Titlis – not covered

The Swiss Travel Pass does entitle you to discounts off the cost of those mountain railways, though – 50% in most cases.

6. Are there price reductions for children?

Absolutely!  Switzerland is a free child-friendly country and there’s no exception when it comes to travelling by train.

Children who have not yet reached their 6th birthday always travel for free in Switzerland.

Kids aged between 6 to 15 are entitled to reduced fares and there are a couple of different options.

If the parents are travelling with a Swiss Travel Pass or a Swiss Half Fare Card, they can obtain a free Swiss Family Card which entitles any children up to 15 years old to travel for free.

Should the parents not have a Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card, you can purchase a Junior Travel Card for CHF 30 for each child. The Junior Travel Card is valid for an entire year and entitles the child to free travel on the entire public transport network.

7. Difference between 1st and 2nd class?

Most high speed trains offer a choice of both first and second class carriages (called Coaches). First class seats usually recline and have more legroom. There are generally fewer seats per coach and more space for luggage. 

First class coaches are usually quieter with more business and adult passengers travelling in first class coaches. 

Second class seats are less expensive, but not as spacious as there are more seats per car, and often these will be in a compartment-style layout with two bench seats (each seating two people) facing each other. 

Second class coaches often have more passengers than first class coaches as more Swiss tend to travel in second class.

Side note: Some regional trains only have 2nd class coaches. 1st class on boats is on the upper deck.

8. Do you need to make seat reservations?

For most trains in Switzerland you do not need any reservations, you simply hop on and sit in any available seat.  On some longer distance trains you can make a seat reservation if you prefer to but it’s not compulsory. 

On Switzerland’s scenic trains it is mandatory to make a seat reservation. This applies to the Bernina Express, Glacier Express, GoldenPass Express (in Prestige Class) and Gotthard Panorama Express trains.

It is essential that seat reservations are purchased before travel and you should book your seat reservation for the panoramic trains as early as possible. As there are minimal services per day, there is limited availability and, unlike most other Swiss trains, the panoramic trains do book out.

The booking window for seat reservations differs from train to train so you do need to do some research and forward planning.  

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have already purchased your ticket or rail pass before you buy your seat reservation.  The most important thing is to secure your seat reservation for the panoramic train (or trains) – you can then buy your point-to-point ticket or rail pass later.  As long as you have both a seat reservation and a valid ticket or pass when you get onboard the train, you are sorted.

Also keep in mind that if you are crossing into many of the neighbouring countries you will most likely require a seat reservation.

9. If I miss out on seat reservations is it still worth travelling by train?

Absolutely!  There are numerous other panoramic trains that are fantastic alternatives to the most famous scenic trains in Switzerland.

Regular trains also offer stunning views, whether or not they follow the exact same route. You can also board a PostBus for a different way to see the country. 

A great example is the Bernina Express ride.  If you’ve missed out on getting seat reservations on the panoramic train, you can travel the exact same route onboard one of the regional trains operated by Rhaetian Railways.  

You’ll see the same scenery but as you don’t need to book a seat reservation, you also have the option of getting off along the way and resuming your journey on a later train.

Whilst you don’t get the huge, panoramic windows on the regional trains, they do have windows which open (unlike the panoramic trains) which is great for taking photos.

10. Is there room to store luggage onboard and how much can you bring?

Although there is not a huge amount of space for storing luggage on Swiss trains, most trains do have a dedicated luggage storage area in the area close to where you board the train. 

Some trains also have space under and between the seats where luggage can be stored.

There are also overhead racks above the seats where you can place small luggage.

Whilst there is no restriction on the Swiss trains as to how much luggage you can bring, it is highly recommended that you limit yourself to a medium sized suitcase and one piece of hand luggage or a backpack.

There is no porter service in Switzerland so you have to take care of your luggage. You are required to bring your own luggage to the platform and to carry it onto the train. 

11. Will I have to lift my suitcase up and down stairs at the stations?

There is always a ramp or an elevator at Swiss train stations as well as step-free access to the platform.  For this reason, a suitcase with wheels works perfectly.

12. Can I buy food/drink onboard?

On most InterCity and EuroCity trains there is a restaurant or a Bistro for takeaway food and drinks. Regional trains don’t usually have snack bars however you are always allowed to bring your own food and drinks to consume onboard.

13. Are there toilets onboard?

Most medium to long distance trains in Switzerland have onboard toilets.  You’ll find them at the end of the coach, indicated by a WC sign.  It is not common for mountain railways to have toilets onboard.

14. Do trains run on Sundays and public holidays?

Yes, public transport is the preferred mode of transport for most Swiss so the trains run seven days per week in Switzerland.

15. Where can I find timetables for Swiss trains?

The SBB Mobile app is the best place to check timetables for all public transport in Switzerland.  You can check the frequency of services, departure times, which platform the train departs from and arrives at, where the train stops along the way, what facilities are onboard the train and even what the expected occupancy of the train is.

The app is updated in real time, too, so if there are any delays – which is pretty uncommon, as I mentioned earlier – the new arrival and departures will be shown.

Times on the timetable and on the train station display boards are shown in military time, so a train scheduled to depart at 2.15 in the afternoon (2.15pm), will be shown as departing at 14:15.

I highly recommend you download the SBB Mobile app to your device before you get to Switzerland.

I hope I have answered some of the questions you had about travelling around Switzerland by train.  If there are still questions you’d like answers to, you’ll probably find them in my new ebook The Essential Guide to Travelling by Train in Switzerland.  

The book goes into more detail about the topics I’ve covered today plus there’s lots more info and tips about Swiss train travel.  

There are chapters about the different ticket and rail pass options, what to expect at the station and onboard the train, info about the different types of trains in Switzerland including the panoramic trains and mountain railways and suggested itineraries.  The book also features photos and maps to help you plan your Swiss rail vacation.

You can get a copy of The Essential Guide to Travelling by Train in Switzerland at holidaystoswitzerland.com/shop and I’ll include a link in the show notes, too.

Thanks for joining me today. 

Until next time, Tschuss.

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