Rail travel in Switzerland

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Andrew Bossi
Switzerland will spoil you with a fantastic transport system - swift and disturbingly punctual trains, clean buses, and half a dozen different kinds of mountain transport systems, all integrated into a coherent system. The discount options and variety of tickets can be bewildering, from half fare cards to multi-day, multi-use tickets good for buses, boats, trains, and even bike rentals. In general, there's at least one train or bus per hour on every route. On many routes there are trains and buses running every 30 or even 15 minutes, with city transit services running every 5-7 minutes during rush hours. However, as with everything in Switzerland the transit runs less often, or at least for a shorter period of the day during weekends, and particularly on Sundays and public holidays and in less densely inhabited areas.
Information, routes, fares, policies and schedules for almost all public transport can be found online on the Swiss Federal Railways' (SBB CFF FFS) website which is a must-use resource for any traveller to Switzerland. Information can also been found on posters and screens at any stop, or from a ticket window at any railway station. The nation-wide coherently integrated timetable is also available as a free smart phone app. At any railway station of any provider you can get information and tickets (at manned ticket counters) for any of the many members of the integrated railways network of Switzerland and most bus systems, in particular PostBus Switzerland (de: PostAuto, fr: CarPostale, it: AutoPostale) which provides an online timetable as well with the same data.
Bus and trains do not and are not allowed under law to compete each other in Switzerland, rather - quite the opposite, they are complementary to each other – besides being coordinated timetable-wise. That way, almost all inhabited villages and towns in Switzerland can be reached by public transport. This is actually constitutionally demanded by the Public Service regulations of the Swiss Confederation. Public Service is a unique Swiss term loosely referring to all kinds of laws, acts, and ordinances, which define the basic supply of public services and infrastructure in particular concerning postal services, telecommunication, electronic media, public transport and road infrastructure.
There are about 20 regional fare networks throughout the country, which incorporate many kinds of public transport (city bus, tram, metro, any kind of train, PostBus, boats, funiculars and others) by many different providers around urban centers into one single fare system, such as ZVV in the canton of Zurich, unireso (see also: Geneva's tpg) in the canton of Geneva and its French adjacent area, or mobilis around Lausanne in the canton of Vaud at the northern shore of Lake Geneva, passepartout in the cantons of Lucerne, Nid- and Obwalden (keyword: Titlis). Usually these networks sell zone-based tickets valid for a particular time frame (instead of point-to-point tickets) for journeys within their fare network borders. Many of these networks and transit operators provide their own free smartphone apps; sometimes to be found on the major city's transit company website.
Even if there is no train or city transit available, the comprehensive PostBus Switzerland network gets you there. Where applicable, PostBus Switzerland is part of regional fare networks. You find all timetable information on Swiss Federal Railways' (SBB CFF FFS) online timetable, but PostBus Switzerland also provides their own free app with the same information as by SBB as well as many additional features.
Further information about the railway network in Switzerland and the Switzerland-wide countryside bus network is also available online.



International connections

Information for railway enthusiasts