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Seeing Switzerland by train is easy and hassle free. The journey is as rewarding as the destination. The scenic Swiss landscape keeps your nose glued to the window most of the time.
So many factors speak for discovering Switzerland by train. It is by far the greenest way to explore the country. Environmentally conscious Switzerland runs its trains mostly on hydroelectricity. The extensive Swiss Travel System connects the big city with the smallest mountain village by train and bus - smoke free and on time.
Zürich and Geneva Airports are connected to the Swiss Rail System. The train will bring you swiftly into the city or directly to your destination. The Airport Train Station is conveniently located 'underground'. Timetables are prominently placed and signs lead you do the train.
If you arrive at the Airports Euroairport Basel or Bern-Belpmoos, the airport bus will bring you to the city center or train station.
You can send your baggage directly from your home airport to a Swiss railway station with the "Fly Rail Baggage Service". Upon arrival in Switzerland, you don't have to wait at the carousel for your luggage. You breeze through the airport directly to the train station.
Each piece of luggage can't exceed 32 kg (70.5 lb), but of course, ultimately, the weight depends on the airline you choose. You also can send ski equipment and strollers, but not bicycles.
On your way back home verify with your airline if they let you check-in your luggage at the train station directly. Unfortunately (for security reason), not every airline lets you use this service. If that's the case, you still can send your luggage expedited to the airport by train. You will have to check in your luggage one day before your departure flight.
You will have to attach a special tag to your Fly-Rail luggage. You can get it from your travel agent or buy the Fly - Rail Baggage to Switzerland tag from RailEurope.
It's not a problem taking your luggage into the train. For larger pieces use the storage space right at the beginning of a coach; smaller pieces fit between, under or above your seats.
It's really not a problem taking your baggage with you onto the train except maybe on busy ski weekends when trains fill up quickly with bulky ski equipment.
If you don't want to schlepp your luggage, you can send it by train from any of the 480 staffed train stations. You will need a valid ticket for yourself. The suitcase should not exceed 25 kg (55lb) or you would have to pay an extra fee. More info on Express or door-to-door luggage here.
You also can send bicycles, skis and snow boards mounted with shoes (protective coverage provided by SBB - free of charge). If you are a group and want to send ski dresses, shoes, hiking boots and similar items to the next destination, you can rent a box (approx. CHF 15) at the train station.
Larger train stations are small shopping malls. You can shop even after normal closing hours and on weekends. At the ticket counter, you can change money or send/receive money with Western Union and you can even buy event tickets.
Free Wireless internet access at larger train stations.
You can get printed pocket timetables for regions free of charge, or download them as a pdf file from the SBB website.
Also, when you buy a ticket at the railway station ask that they print out the schedule for your specific route. It will show you not only departure and arrival times but also where you have to change trains and from which track your connection will leave.
You can use the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) timetable no matter if you travel by train (national or private), bus, boat or cable cars - even for city transportation (if you know the street or Hotel Address you are headed to).
Seasonal train schedule changes: There are different schedules for winter (mid December) and summer (mid June). Although changes are marginal, and main routes stay pretty much the same, do recheck your schedules if you planned your vacation well ahead of your departure date. Trains can run on a different schedule on nationwide public holidays: 1 and 2 January, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whit Monday, August 1st, December 25th and 26st.
For quick an easy reference, download the timetable as mobile app.
Although the following example of a mobile Swiss train schedule is shown on an LG, the app works pretty much the same way on iPhone, Android, and WP7.
How do I know which train to board?
When you see this sign it means the train is not staffed and you have to validate your ticket BEFORE entering the train, or you risk a fine if a controller shows up.
Does this sound too complicated? Don't worry. Getting around by train is easy. All you really need to know is the destination, departure time and track from where your train is leaving, and you are good to go. There are additional timetables above the tracks and on schedule boards along the platform for quick reference. Do double check to make sure your departure track hasn't changed. It happens not very often, but it can due to repair or extra scheduled trains.
Attention when you board an express train. Express train stops can differ. If your destination is not marked on timetable posters (or on the express train itself), the train will not stop. Example: You want to go to Ziegelbrücke; you can either board the EuroCity or InterRegio Express to Chur, but make sure Ziegelbrücke is marked as stop.
If you have a pre-purchased ticket without a specific departure date or a booklet of tickets make sure you validate them at the ticket cancelling machine BEFORE you enter the train to avoid a penalty.
Point-to-point tickets can be purchased right before departure at ticket machines and counters - quick and easy.
You can also purchase tickets online (ticket print out) or download the SBB Mobile App for paperless tickets on your mobile phone. However, if you buy through your SBB Mobile App make sure you buy them well in advance. You need the confirmation on your mobile app before you enter the train or you risk getting a fine because you travel without ticket.
To save even more, purchase a booklet of discounted 9 o'clock travel passes and share them with your travel companion. You have to travel together at all times though.
If you don't have a Family Card card, a 1-day travel pass would also be an option for your children aged 6 to 15: CHF 16 in second class and CHF 32 in first class.- 9 o'clock Travel Pass (valid Monday to Fridays from 9am onwards): CHF 58 for second class and CHF 96 first class;
You can buy these day travel passes at the SBB online ticket shop or ticket counter at any train station.
Seat reservation on regular trains within Switzerland is not necessary but of course, if you travel in a group and want to stay together or travel during busy hours, then consider making a reservation (fee applies).
However, seat reservation on some of the Classic Scenic Trains is mandatory. You can make a reservation as early as three month in advance, or as late as the day before you depart. The busier the season, the earlier I recommend you make the reservation.
Commuter times early morning and late afternoon are busier than the rest of the day. If you can, avoid them as well as busy Friday and Sunday evenings during ski season - it can get a bit crowded when weekenders are heading up to the Alps with their ski equipment. If you can't avoid travelling during these times and the second class coaches are full, consider an upgrade to first class.
Seat reservation is not compulsory for IC and ICE (regular international trains), although it's always a good idea to reserve your seat for international travel, especially during the touristy season.
A seat reservation is mandatory if you want to use the CityNightline (CNL), EuroNight (EN) as well as RailJet and TGV if you travel internationally.
If you wish, you can make a seat reservation for dining in the rolling SBB restaurant coach. It's convenient if you travel as a group and want to make sure you can sit at the same table. You can reserve your seat up to one day before departure at the ticket counter or by calling 0900 300 300 (CHF 1.19 per minute). The supplement you pay for seat reservation will be deducted from your meal bill.
The great thing about travelling by train is that they are very reliable. Even if you only have 5 minutes to change trains or catch a bus, you can count on punctuality. In most trains, connections (tracks and schedules) are announced in English.
Although Swiss trains are reliable, delays can happen and I strongly recommend staying near the airport before your return flight home.
Children up to the age of 6 travel for free. Between the ages of 6 and 15 (one day short of their 16th birthday) they get a discount of 50%.
With a Family (Junior) Card and/or Grandchild Travel Card for CHF 30.00 (valid for one year), children between the ages of 6 and 15 years travel for free when accompanied by a paying parent or grandparent.
If you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass, a Swiss Card or a Swiss Transfer Ticket you can request a Family Card with which your children travel for free..
All InterCity (IC) trains have a themed coach for kids, either at the beginning or at the end of the train with enough space for strollers and push chairs. Playgrounds can be found upstairs in the same coaches. Game boards are fitted into tables, though you have to buy the pieces from the SBB Minibar (in the train) to play the games. It's easier to bring your own games with you.
On timetables, trains with family coaches are marked with a pictorgram. Check the train configuration posters on the platform to see where they are located.
The SBB Call Center Handicap will assist you if you need help boarding or changing trains. If you need mobile lifts for boarding trains please allow plenty of time for changing trains.
SBB Call Center Handicap
Toll-free in Switzerland (from 6 to 22) 0800 007 102
Direct dial from abroad: +41 (0)51 225 78 44
Any size of dog can travel with you. Small dogs up to 30cm (1 foot) at the top of their shoulder blades travel free if you carry them in a suitable bag.
All other dogs pay second-class half fare (even for travel in first class). Depending on the length of the trip, buying a one-day travel pass for them might be a better option.
Lots of train stations offer bicycles for rent. Should you bring your own bike and want to take your bicycle on the train, you can purchase a ticket for self-service loading online, at the ticket machine, the ticket counter or by mobile phone. Trains that carry bikes are marked with a bike pictogram on timetables, and on some trains a reservation is needed. Refer to the train schedule.
Space in Post busses is limited, so even though a reservation is only required for groups, it is advisable to make a reservation in advance. Bicycle carry on by the Post bus service check here.
E-bikes can only be transported in Post busses if they don't have a yellow sticker. Advance reservation necessary.
Don't mind to dismantle your bike? Get a bag at the train station and you can carry it free of charge with you.
The same way you can send luggage you can also send your bike, if you have a valid train ticket or pass. It takes two days to arrive at your destination.
No matter if you travel by train, bus or boat, the price is the same. You can choose between a one day bike pass, multipack passes or local tickets.
If you plan to transport your bike on Intercity tilting trains (ICN), you will have to make a reservation.
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Photos: © SwissTravelSystem.com
The information on this page was correct at the time of publishing. However, prices are subject to change without notice.
This page was last updated December 2015.
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