For members


Five things you didn’t know about Switzerland’s rail network

Swiss trains are famous for their punctuality — we all know that. But there are also some things about the country’s railway system that many people have no clue about.

Five things you didn't know about Switzerland's rail network
Switzerland's mountain railways are spectacular. Image by Iso Tuor from Pixabay

Switzerland is a nation of avid train commuters.

In fact, a report from Eurostat, Europe’s Statistical Office, shows that the Swiss are Europe’s most frequent train travelers per capita, so it is just as well that they have a (mostly) reliable railway network to take them from point A to point B, and back.

The reliability of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is no secret, but there are some facts that may not be as widely known.

These are some of them.

Extensive and dense coverage

People in Switzerland take it for granted that they can get pretty much everywhere by train, but did you know that this small country has one of the world’s densest and most extensive rail networks: around 5,300 kilometres of tracks and 804 stations along the way.

While the SBB is the government-owned railroad, there are also over 70 private ones, including the famous “scenic” lines that travel through the Alps.

The world’s steepest cogwheel train lives in Switzerland

Alongside the fast, modern trains that crisscross the country horizontally, there are some vestiges of days gone by.

One of them that is still in service is the cogwheel train commissioned in 1889, known to this day as the steepest one in the world.

It travels on a gradient of up to 48 percent, which is perhaps not surprising in the heavily mountainous country.

At such a steep incline, it takes 30 minutes to cover the 4,618-metre-long distance between Alpnachstad and Pilatus, the two locations in central Switzerland that the train connects.

Some mountain trains face an uphill ride. Image by Evelyne H. Bur from Pixabay 

Sheep (yes, sheep) are among SBB’s most valued employees

Relax — the sheep are not driving the trains.

Instead, they work in the company’s embankment maintenance department. This means the animals are tasked with eating the grass along the rail tracks.

They graze on rough terrain and steep slopes inaccessible to conventional lawn mowers. Each day, the animals dutifully eat their way through about a square kilometre of land.

The crew is headed by the foresheep named Bruna, who even has her own Instagram account.

Intricate timetable

The Swiss leave nothing to chance, least of all the timing.

The trains run according to a sophisticated and very precise schedule, departing each station at regular intervals, and are closely linked and coordinated with other public transport systems, like buses and trams.

This finely-tuned timetable cuts waiting times to a strictly necessary minimum for connecting journeys.

Trains run according to the iconic SBB clock. Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Trains are punctual… except in October and November

The timeliness of Switzerland’s trains (at least in comparison to other countries’) is legendary.

But perhaps it shouldn’t quite be.

As the SBB itself admits it, “we have more punctuality issues” in October and November than during other times of the year.

Why is this?

“The main reason is the shift to wet, stormy, and cold weather conditions. When the tracks are wet, trains need longer to accelerate and brake”, the company explains.

But commuters too are to blame, it appears.

“When it rains, passengers often congregate under the platform roof and board the train through the same door. This leads to longer stops…There are also other factors that we can do little about, for example, shorter days with less daylight”. 

And these are two other fascinating facts about Swiss trains, which you already know about from previous articles, but which bear repeating:

 IN PICTURES: World’s longest passenger train winds through Swiss Alps

Why is there a foul odour stinking out trains in Switzerland?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Why are flights to and from Switzerland so expensive this summer?

Airline activity to and from Switzerland has almost fully recovered after travel bans during the pandemic, yet prices are soaring. Here’s why.

Why are flights to and from Switzerland so expensive this summer?

If you’ve been searching for flights to or from Switzerland during the summer, you may have noticed that prices are higher compared to previous years. Flight prices have in fact risen by 36 percent compared to pre-pandemic times, according to estimates. 

This trend of soaring prices is not limited to Switzerland alone; it is happening across Europe.

In an interview with Bild am Sonntag, TUI CEO Sebastian Ebel announced that there would be no last-minute offers this summer and that the days of cheap flights are over.

Ebel explained that travellers’ booking habits – namely booking tickets shortly before departure – are likely to lead to a further rise in ticket prices. “Spontaneous bargains will be the absolute exception,” he said.

Ryanair Austria head Andreas Gruber issued similar sentiments, stating that the days of flying almost for free are over. “There will be no more 10-euro tickets,” he said in September 2022. Currently, the cheapest ticket you can book with Ryanair costs 25 euros.

Unfortunately, airfare inflation has continued to rise.

The average price for a Ryanair flight will rise from 40 to 50 euros in the future. Still, the Irish airline expects the number of passengers to grow in the coming months as people start looking for cheaper transportation with the rising cost of living.

Rush to travel

Several factors contribute to these price hikes. The unexpected rush to travel after the pandemic caught the industry off guard and led to chaos at some European airports last summer due to staffing shortages.

Despite the return of passengers, business travellers have not returned in the same numbers as before, partly due to the newfound convenience of virtual meetings. In addition, the slow recovery has impacted the profitability of specific flights, prompting some airlines to discontinue routes altogether.

Fuel costs, which account for approximately one-third of ticket prices, are often cited as a reason for the price increase, even though the price of oil per barrel is falling. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) attributes the price hikes to the rising cost of kerosene, explaining that “high fuel prices, as well as other inflationary cost increases, can impact ticket prices if airlines are unable to absorb or avoid these costs.”

Johan Lundgren, CEO of EasyJet, noted that the ban on flying over Russia has increased travel time by one to two hours for certain Asian destinations, adding to the costs of long-haul flights, according to airlines.

Commercial planes of Swiss air lines, Lufthansa and Spanish low-cost airline Vueling parked on the tarmac of Geneva Airport on May 4th, 2023. (

Commercial planes of Swiss air lines, Lufthansa and Spanish low-cost airline Vueling parked on the tarmac of Geneva Airport on May 4th, 2023. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

SWISS prices set to soar

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) announced upcoming summer increases in a Blick interview last year. CEO Dieter Vranckx said that the airline’s sustainability efforts, among other things, are behind the price surge.

Meanwhile, aviation expert Andreas Wittmer from the University of St. Gallen told SRF that “in order to achieve the climate targets set by 2050, the aviation industry must invest – especially in so-called sustainable fuels”.

These investments will then likely result in higher ticket prices.

In line with that, SWISS announced that it has embarked on a pioneering new partnership with luxury Swiss hotel Gstaad Palace earlier this month which will see the latter procure sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for all its business travel on SWISS.

Moreover, SWISS said that it will continue to offer customers very attractive and competitive prices, though it noted that prices in aviation are more dynamic than in most other industries and that the increase in pricing has to do with supply and demand.

To compare: an Economy Light return ticket for a flight leaving Zurich Airport for London Heathrow (LHR) on July 21st (until July 24th) will set you back an average 350 francs and from Geneva Airport to LHR around 240 francs.

Travelling from Zurich (Geneva) to London Gatwick on the same days via easyJet with only hand luggage in tow will still cost you 206 (134) francs.

Though Basel is not serviced by SWISS, you can head to London Gatwick for a cool 158 francs over the same time period.

READ MORE: How SWISS is expanding flight connections this year

But the higher prices are unlikely to put passengers off their summer vacation entirely.

SWISS stated that it still expects to report total available seat-kilometres (ASK) production for 2023 that is as high as 85 per cent of its 2019 level and expects to raise this further in 2024.

SWISS (excluding Edelweiss Air) transported over three million passengers in Q1 of 2023, an increase of over 70 percent on the prior-year period. It also performed more than 27,000 flights, around 47 per cent more than in the first quarter of 2022.

Prices set to relax in 2024

According to Wittmer, the increase in pricing has now seen its peak and prices should begin to relax in 2024 – if only momentarily.

This, he said, is due to several reasons. For one, SWISS is expanding its international long-haul flights this winter from both Zurich and Geneva Airport. The destinations due to see more frequent traffic are Miami (USA), Shanghai (China), Singapore (Singapore) and Cairo (Egypt).

Other airlines are also gradually bringing back their mothballed aircraft, while Airbus and Boeing will also be delivering new aircraft after production problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The IATA even expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4 billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger) and exceed pre-pandemic levels (103 per cent of the 2019 total).

How can I avoid spending too much money on summer travelling?

Although flights may not be as cheap as before, there are still strategies to keep costs down:

– Booking flights well in advance tends to result in cheaper tickets, as prices increase closer to the flight date. Therefore, if you still need to book your flight, now is the time to do so.

– Avoiding the peak holiday season in July and August can help save money. Instead, consider taking an early summer vacation in June or a later one in late August or early September.

– Check websites like Skyscanner and Google Flights for the cheapest airline options. These platforms can also find cheaper tickets if you’re open to making stopovers instead of flying direct.

– Be flexible with your travel dates. For example, look for midweek departures or consider departing from secondary airports, which may offer lower prices compared to major airports.

– If you’re travelling within Europe, consider rail travel as an alternative to flying. The Austrian train system, operated mainly by state-owned company ÖBB, is known for its efficiency and relatively affordable prices, and is highly regarded in many countries.

By employing these strategies, you can still find ways to manage costs and make your travel plans more affordable despite the current trend of rising airfare prices.