The Swiss Federal Railways, or SBB/CFF/FFS, boasts one of the world's densest transportation networks; trains and stations are clean and, as you'd expect, service is extremely prompt. Trains described as Inter-City or Express are the fastest, stopping only in principal towns. Regionalzug, train régional, and treno regionale mean "local train." If you're planning to use the trains extensively, get the official timetable ("Kursbuch" or "Horaire" or "Orario") for 16 SF. The Swiss Federal Railways also has an excellent Web site allowing you to work out itineraries online, including suburban trains and buses.
In addition to the federal rail lines there are some private rail lines, such as the Montreux-Oberland-Bernois line and the Rhätische Bahn. Most private lines generally accept discount rail passes or accord a reduction on the price.
If your itinerary requires changing trains, bear in mind that the average connection time is six to ten minutes.
If you happen to suffer from motion sickness, note that the Swiss ICN trains—and the German ICE, the French TGV, and the Italian Cisalpino—all use "tilt technology" for a less jerky ride. One side effect, however, is that some passengers might get "seasick," especially if the track is curvy (as between Biel/Bienne and Geneva). An over-the-counter drug for motion sickness should help. Also close the shades and avoid looking out the window.
Consider a first-class ticket only if the extra comfort is worth the price. The principal difference between first and second class, the only two options, is space: first-class cars are less crowded. Seat size is also larger, upholstery fancier, and you usually will be delivered to the track position closest to the station.
You can rely on the Swiss rail service to provide clean, timely service in both first and second class. If you are eager to read or get some work done on the train, try the Quiet Area compartments, available in first and second class on a number of routes in Switzerland. Travelers are asked not to use cell phones, listen to music, or engage in loud conversation. The upper decks of some first-class cars also offer business compartments or seats; they are designated with the laptop icon and are equipped with power outlets.
If Switzerland is your only destination in Europe, there are numerous passes available for visitors. The Swiss Pass is the best value, offering unlimited travel on Swiss Federal Railways, postbuses, Swiss lake steamers, and the local bus and tram services of 38 cities. It also gives reductions on many privately owned railways, cable cars, and funiculars. And it gives you access to about 450 museums in the country.
The card is available from Switzerland Tourism and from travel agents outside Switzerland, including Rail Europe and Europe On Rail. You can get a card valid for four days (257 SF second class; 385 SF first class); eight days (371 SF second class; 555 SF first class); 15 days (449 SF second class; 673 SF first class), 22 days (517 SF second class; 776 SF first class); or one month (569 SF second class; 854 SF first class). There's also the Flexipass, offering the same for three to six days in a 30-day period at the user's convenience (246 SF-392 SF second class; 369 SF-587 SF first class). There's an approximately 15% discount on the Swiss Pass and the Flexipass for two or more people. The STS Family Card is issued at no cost to nonresidents of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, upon request. With this card, children under 16 accompanied by a parent travel for free.
Within some popular tourist areas Regional Holiday Season Tickets are available. Their discount offers vary; prices vary widely, too, depending on the region and period of validity. Passes are available from Switzerland Tourism and local tourist boards, as well as the train stations, but to be on the safe side inquire well in advance.
The Swiss Card, which can be purchased in the United States through Rail Europe, Europe On Rail, and at train stations at the Zürich and Geneva airports and in Basel, is valid for 30 days and grants full round-trip travel from your arrival point to any destination in the country, plus a half-price reduction on any further excursions during your stay (182 SF second class; 255 SF first class). For more information about train travel in Switzerland, get the free "Swiss Travel System" or "Discover Switzerland" brochures from Switzerland Tourism.
Switzerland is one of 21 countries in which you can use Eurail Globalpasses, which provide unlimited first-class rail travel in all the participating countries for the duration of the pass. If you plan to rack up the miles, get a standard pass. These are available for 15 days ($678), 21 days ($879), one month ($1092), two months ($1542), and three months ($1901).
If your plans call for only limited train travel, look into a Eurail Selectpass, which costs less money than a Eurail Global pass. Unlike with Eurailpasses, however, you get a limited number of travel days, in a limited number of countries, during a specified time period. For example, a two-month pass allows between 5 and 15 days of rail travel; costs range between $427 and $934. Keep in mind that the basic Eurail Selectpass is good only in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, though you have the option of adding two "associate countries" (Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, or Portugal).
There are numerous other options available, however, especially if you have planned your itinerary carefully—these depend on how many countries you care to visit, and so on. In addition to standard Eurailpasses, ask about special rail-pass plans. Among these are the Eurail Youthpass (for those under age 26), the Eurail and Europass Saverpasses (which give a discount for two or more people traveling together), the Euraildrive Pass and the Europass Drive (which combine travel by train and rental car).
Many travelers assume that rail passes guarantee them seats on the trains they wish to ride. Not so. You need to book seats ahead even if you are using a rail pass; seat reservations are required on some European trains, particularly high-speed trains, and are a good idea on trains that may be crowded—particularly in summer on popular routes. You also will need a reservation if you purchase sleeping accommodations. Whichever pass you choose, remember that you must purchase your pass before you leave for Europe. The Swiss Federal Railways has a user-friendly site that lets you check fares and schedules. You can also call its hotline, which has information in English. If you decide to forego a pass, most rail stations let you purchase tickets from machines that accept cash and major credit cards.
Jungfraubahnen (033/828-7233. www.jungfrau.ch.)
Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (027/927-7000. www.matterhorngotthardbahn.ch.)
Montreux Oberland Bernois (021/989-8190 or. www.mob.ch.)
Rail Europe (800/622-8600 in the U.S.; 800/361-7245 in Canada. www.raileurope.com.)
Rhätische Bahn (081/288-6565. www.rhb.ch.)
Swiss Federal Railways (0900/300300 1.19 SF per min. www.sbb.ch.)
With the Channel Tunnel completing a seamless route, you can leave London around noon on the Eurostar and (thanks to connections via Paris-Lyon on the French train à grande vitesse, or TGV) have a late supper in Geneva. Note that the TGV tracks connecting Geneva and Paris are a bit bumpy, which can be unsettling for sensitive passengers. Also note that the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express stops in Luzern between London and Venice—information is available from the tour company Abercrombie & Kent.
Switzerland makes the most of its Alpine rail engineering, which cuts through the icy granite landscape above 6,560 feet, by offering special trains that cross over spectacular passes with panoramic cars. The most popular sightseeing itineraries take 4-11 hours' travel time. For information on these and other scenic routes, contact Swiss Federal Railways or Railtour Suisse, Switzerland's largest train-tour company.
Scenic Tour Information
Railtour Suisse (Bernstrasse 164, Zollikofen, 3052. 031/378-0101. www.railtour.ch.)
Swiss Federal Railways (0900/300300 1.19 SF per min. www.sbb.ch.)
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