Getting the most out of Switzerland's numerous transportation pass programs that include rail, bus, lake steamer and even city buses and street cars.
The Swiss Travel System
The Swiss Pass and the Swiss Flexi Pass are more than just national rail passes. They are integrated products that include travel throughout the Swiss Travel System (STS) - rail, boats, postal buses, even streetcars and buses in cities - which comprise more than 300 separate transportation companies. No other European rail passes are so all-inclusive. They also offer Europe's most generous family plan, allowing children under 16 to travel free if accompanied by a parent.
These passes are issued in both first and second class for varying periods of travel.
Two other Switzerland transportation passes to consider are the Swiss Transfer Ticket (introduced this year) and the Swiss Card. The Swiss Transfer Ticket is good for a roundtrip journey between any Swiss airport or border station and any Swiss destination. Let's say you fly into Geneva, want to spend a few days skiing in Zermatt and then fly out via Zürich. Or a business traveler arrives in Zürich, attends a meeting in Interlaken, and leaves the country by train from Geneva. The Swiss Transfer Ticket will cover both routings at a flat rate of $ 71 2nd-class or $107 1st -class (cheaper in Switzerland). The family plan also applies to this ticket.
The Swiss Card works the same way. The only difference is that it also includes a half-fare card entitling the holder to purchase additional tickets (railway, cable-cars, etc) in Switzerland at a 50% discount. It is ideal for travelers that headquarter in a central location and take daytrips. One other important distinction: the Swiss Pass, grants a 25% discount on mountain excursions (cablecars, rack railways), whereas with the Swiss Card the reduction is 50%.
A convenience to rail travelers in Switzerland is that, unlike many other European countries, reservations are not necessary. In fact, the SBB (Swiss Railroad) actually discourages them. In an interview in Switzerland Network News (a publication for travel agents) Hugo Furrer, SBB Director, said: "I realize many clients will find it hard to understand why they cannot pre-book train seats in Switzerland...reassure them they can always find a seat, since there are lots of cars and service is frequent."
Reservations can be made on some main Intercity-lines (for example Zürich-Bern-Geneva or Zurich-Interlaken/Brig), but it's compulsory only on a few of the scenic journeys like the Glacier or William Tell Express.
Frequency and quality of rolling stock are two more great features of the STS. Intercity trains run every half hour on all main lines and the comfortable SBB doubledecker Intercity trains are seen regularly on the St. Gallen-Zürich-Bern-Interlaken, Basel-Zürich-Chur and Zurich-Lucerne lines.
In addition, last May SBB introduced the first of its new ICN fleet, tilting Intercity trains with state-of-the-art design. This new equipment has shortened travel time and eventually will be extended to all major lines.
Over the last few years, Switzerland has experienced a bicycling boom with new routes being opened all over the country. It is easy to combine a bike trip with train travel. Bicycle rental is available at over 200 railway stations and travelers with a STS ticket are eligible for a reduced rental rate of 21 Sfr. ($13) per day or 100 Sfr. ($60) for six days. Riders can transport their bikes on almost all trains for 10 Sfr. ($6) per day.
Traveling by train in a wheelchair has also been taken into consideration by the STS. All-trains on main lines feature wheelchair compartments (unfortunately, they cannot be pre-booked), and if help is needed, a special lift is available at all major stations, provided the station has advance notice. For more information, contact any major railway station in Switzerland.
(U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:
* Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...
* The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)