Rail Transport in Switzerland

Rail Transport in Switzerland

The Swiss rail network is noteworthy for its density, its coordination between services, its integration with other modes of transport, timeliness and a thriving domestic and trans-alp freight system. This is made necessary by strong regulations on truck transport, and is enabled by properly coordinated intermodal logistics.

In 2015, with 5,323 kilometres (3,308 mi) network length, Switzerland has not only the world's most dense railway network (except for very small countries and city-states), but it is also world leader of kilometres traveled: 2,449 km (1,522 mi) per inhabitant and year. Virtually 100 % of its network is electrified, except for the few tracks on which only steam locomotives operate for touristic purposes. There are 62 railway companies in Switzerland. Share of commuters who travel to work using public transport (as main mode of transport) is 30 %. Share of rail in goods transport performance by road and rail (modal split) is 39 %.

Switzerland is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC Country Code for Switzerland is 85.

Swiss Standard-Gauge Lines

Three quarters of the Swiss rail network is at standard gauge, comprising 3,773 km (2,344.4 mi), administered mostly by three companies. Important railway stations are the Zürich HB (441,400 passengers per day on a working day), Bern (202,600 ppd), Basel SBB (112,900 ppd), Lausanne (107,100 ppd), Winterthur (105,200 ppd), Luzern (91,800 ppd), Zürich Oerlikon (84,500 ppd), Zürich Stadelhofen (81,100 ppd), Olten (78,100 ppd), and Geneva (70,700 ppd).

Swiss Federal Railways

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) is the largest railway company in Switzerland and handles the majority of national and international traffic. It operates the main east-west track in the Swiss Plateau area calling all larger Swiss cities and many smaller ones, and the north-south routes through the Alps via the Gotthard Line (Milano-Chiasso-Lugano-Luzern/Zurich-Basel line) and the Simplon Tunnel (Domodossola to Brig-Lausanne-Geneva line).

Total route length: 3,173 km (1,971.6 mi).


BLS (Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon) is the other main company, with 10% of the standard-gauge network. It manages the other major Alpine route Bern-Brig via both Lötschberg Tunnels and connection at Brig with SBB's Simplon Tunnel to Italy.

Total route length: 436 km (270.9 mi).


The Schweizerische Südostbahn AG (SOB) operates on 147 km (91.3 mi) (of which 123 km (76.4 mi) are their own) between Romanshorn on Lake Constance to St. Gallen. And further via Herisau to the Toggenburg valley in northeast Switzerland. Via Wattwil and Rapperswil SOB travels the track over the Seedamm on Lake Zurich and finally over the high moorland of Rothenthurm down to Arth-Goldau in Central Switzerland.

The named train
Voralpen Express (VAE, Pre-Alpine Express) is operated by the Südostbahn. It runs every hour between Lucerne and St. Gallen.

Swiss Rail Links to Other Countries

Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)
Austria – same voltage 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC
France – voltage change 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC / 25 kV, 50 Hz AC or 1,500 V DC
Germany – same voltage 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC
Italy – voltage change 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC / 3 kV DC
Liechtenstein – same voltage 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC

Although both Austria and Germany use the same voltage as Switzerland, only specially adapted trains are able to run to and from those two countries, because narrower pantographs are used in Switzerland.

The German national railway company
Deutsche Bahn (DB) owns cross-border lines from the German border to Basel Badischer Bahnhof station, which is also operated by DB. It also owns and operates an east-west line across the Canton of Schaffhausen that forms a link in the largely German Upper Rhine Railway, and jointly owns Schaffhausen railway station with the Swiss Federal Railways.

German DB operates longer-distance trains from Germany to Swiss cities, including ICE services to Basel, Zurich, Berne, Chur and Interlaken.

The French-Swiss joint-venture
TGV Lyria operates high-speed trains between Paris and South-France with services to Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Interlaken, Basel and Zurich.

The Austrian Railjet by ÖBB operates the service between Zurich and Austria. The service runs via Buchs SG and calls Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna besides others.

SBB and Trenitalia jointly operate EuroCity services between Switzerland and Italy. These services are running between Geneva and Milan or even Venice via the Simplon Tunnel. Between Basel and Milan via Berne and the Lötschberg Base and Simplon Tunnels, and between Zurich and Milan via the Gotthard route.

Swiss Narrow-Gauge Lines

RhB and MGB

The Rhaetian Railway (RhB) is the longest 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge railway in Switzerland, linking Arosa, Disentis, Davos, St. Moritz in the high Alps, and Tirano in Italy with Chur, a rail junction with the SBB. It passes through the upper Rhine Valley and several side valleys, as well as the Engadine, the upper valley of the river Inn. The Bernina Pass is the highest point on this line, at 2253 m. Total length: 366 kilometres.

Furka Oberalp Bahn (FO) is a 1,000 mm railway in the high southern alps. Its name refers to two passes, the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass. The Furka pass lies at the upper end of the Rhône valley. The Oberalp pass is the highest point on this line at 2033 metres, and lies at the upper end of the Rhine valley. The total length of the railway is 100 kilometres, and the line runs from Disentis to Brig. Brig is a rail junction with the SBB and BLS and sits at the north end of the Simplon tunnel on the Milan to Lausanne CFF line and Milan to Bern BLS line.

Brig Visp Zermatt (BVZ) railway, commonly known as the BVZ Zermatt Bahn, is a short line between Brig and Zermatt. It passes through the Visp and Matt Valleys, tributaries of the Rhône. Total length: 43 kilometres.

In 2003, the FO and BVZ merged to form the
Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB).

The Glacier Express (GEX) runs on the combined three line route St. Moritz/Davos-Filisur-Chur-Disentis-Andermatt-Brig-Visp-Zermatt. A one-day trip in panoramic view cars takes tourists from St. Moritz/Davos to Zermatt, or vice versa, through some of the most spectacular scenery of the Alps.

More Swiss Narrow-Gauge Lines

The Chemins de fer du Jura (CJ), the railways of the Jura canton in northern Switzerland, is an 85-kilometre rail network of which 74 km is metre gauge, the remaining 11 km being standard gauge. It connects La Chaux de Fonds to Glovelier and Tramelan, both via Le Noirmont.

The Appenzeller Bahnen (AB) with its total of 77 km of mainly metre-gauge tracks just recently combined (2006) the earlier separate Trogenerbahn from St. Gallen to Trogen, the standard-gauge railway from Rorschach, Switzerland to Heiden, Switzerland, the short track of the funiculair from Rheineck to Walzenhausen, as well as the previous Appenzeller Bahnen. The AB connects main spots within both Appenzells with St. Gallen and Altstätten in the Alpine Rhine Valley.

The Gornergratbahn climbs for 9 kilometres from an elevation of 1600 metres near the Zermatt station of the Zermatt Rail Road to a 3000-metre high-end station on the shoulder of the Monte Rosa Mountain. The entire route is a rack-and-pinion railway.

Berner Oberland Bahn is a 24-kilometre line from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald. It begins at Interlaken Ost station and divides at Zweilütschinen, about 10 kilometres south of Interlaken. The western branch leads to Lauterbrunnen, while the eastern branch leads to Grindelwald. It is possible to make a loop by taking the Lauterbrunnen branch and returning via the Grindelwald branch. The two branches are connected by the Wengernalp Bahn.

Wengernalpbahn is a 19-kilometre line from Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald, leading over the Eiger ridge at the junction station of Kleine Scheidegg. In the winter, this junction is a ski resort served by many lifts and trails, as well as the rail line. Skiers can ride the train from the valleys below to return to the top of the runs.

Jungfraubahn, which is also rack-and-pinion throughout, starts at Kleine Scheidegg and runs 9 kilometres through tunnels in the Eiger and Mönch, leading to the "Jungfraujoch," a saddle between the Mönch and the Jungfrau summits. At the saddle are a visitor centre and an observatory. The Aletsch Glacier, largest in Europe, runs to the south toward the Rhône valley.

The Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren (BLM) is 6 km long, divided into two independent parts, the first part being a cable car (which runs above the old funicular railway, which was replaced in 2006), the second an adhesion railway.

The Martigny–Châtelard railway is 19 km long, with one rack railway section, in the canton of Valais. It connects with the Saint-Gervais–Vallorcine railway in France, the joint services being marketed as Mont Blanc Express.

The Montreux Oberland Bernois (MOB) line runs 75 kilometres from Montreux on Lake Geneva to Zweisimmen, with a connecting line to Lenk in the Simmental. The section from Montreux to Zweisimmen, approximately 63 kilometres long, is part of the "Golden Pass Panorama" trip from Montreux to Lucerne, a trip which combines rides on the MOB, the BLS and the Zentralbahn (zb).

From Interlaken, the narrow-gauge
Brünigbahn section of the Zentralbahn (zb) runs 74 kilometres further to Lucerne. It skirts Lake Brienz and passes through the range of mountains to the north of the lake via Brünig pass, and then drops into the Sarner Aa valley to Lucerne.

zb also runs the line between Lucerne and Engelberg.

At Brienz the
Brienz Rothorn Bahn (BRB), a steam-hauled rack railway, ascends to near the summit of the Brienzer Rothorn.

The Ferrovia Lugano–Ponte Tresa (FLP), in Canton Ticino, runs 12.3 kilometres from Lugano to Ponte Tresa.

Swiss Narrow-Gauge Links to Adjacent Countries

1,000 mm 1k 3 ft 3 3⁄8 in metre gauge


Bernina Railway, break-of-gauge and voltage change at Tirano
FART (ferrovie autolinee regionali ticinesi) railway line between Locarno and Domodossola through the
Swiss Centovalli and Italian Valle Vigezzo.

Swiss Urban Railways

Swiss Trams

There are trams operating on nine systems in seven Swiss cities. Street-running tramways are nearly all 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in). The Chemin de fer Bex Villars Bretaye (BVB) in Bex is more of a mixed interuban light rail line connected to a rack railway but it does have some street running portions, particularly in Bex where the BVB operates along the right of way of a tramway system originally built in the 1890s.

Swiss Tram System:
Basler Verkehrs-Betriebe (BVB)    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 6 May 1892    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge    
Swiss Tram Notes: 8 lines

Swiss Tram System: Baselland Transport (BLT)    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 6 October 1902    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge    Swiss Tram Notes: 
4 lines, 65.2 km (40.5 mi), 100 trams, serves suburbs

City: Bern    
Swiss Tram System: Städtische Verkehrsbetriebe Bern    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 1 July 1902    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge
Swiss Tram System:
Bex Villars Bretaye railway (BVB)
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 1898    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge    
Swiss Tram Notes: connects to rack railway in Villars-sur-Ollon

Swiss Tram System: Transports Publics Genevois    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 22 September 1894    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge     

Swiss Tram System: Tramway du sud-ouest lausannois    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 2 June 1991    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge     

Swiss Tram System: Trams in Neuchâtel    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 16 May 1897    
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge     

Swiss Tram System: Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich (VBZ)    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 8 March 
Swiss Tram Gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge     

Swiss Tram System: Stadtbahn Glattal    
Swiss Tram Start of the Electric Operations: 10 December 2006


In German-speaking parts of Switzerland, the frequent town to and from city commuter service known as the S-Bahn has been built in several cities such as the Zürich S-Bahn and the Basel Regional S-Bahn.

In French-speaking parts of Switzerland, the service is known as the Réseau Express Régional such as in the Léman RER.


The construction and operation of Swiss railways during the 19th century was carried out by private railways. The first internal line was a 16 km line opened from Zürich to Baden in 1847. By 1860 railways connected western and northeastern Switzerland. The first Alpine railway to be opened under the Gotthard Pass in 1882. A second alpine line was opened under the Simplon Pass in 1906.

In 1901 the major railways were nationalised to form
Swiss Federal Railways. During the first half of the twentieth century they were electrified and slowly upgraded. After the Second World War rail rapidly lost its share of the rail market to road transport as car ownership rose and more roads were built. From 1970 the Federal Government has become more involved in upgrading the railways, especially in urban areas and on trunk routes under the Rail 2000 project. In addition, two major trans-alpine routes—the Gotthard Railway and the Lötschberg approach to the Simplon Tunnel—are being rebuilt under the AlpTransit project.

Integration of Services

Between Rail Services

Services on the Swiss railway are integrated with each other and with other forms of public transport. Unlike its European neighbours, Switzerland has not developed a comprehensive high-speed rail network, with the running speed on its one stretch, called the Rothrist-Mattstetten line, of relatively high-speed line being 200 km/h. Instead the priority is not so much the speeding up of trains between cities, but the reduction of connection times through the nodal system. Journey times on main lines between hubs are multiples of 15 minutes so that on the hour or half-hour all trains stand in the main stations at the same time, thus minimising connection times. Indeed the above-mentioned Rothrist-Mattstetten line reduces journey times from Bern to Zurich from 72 minutes to 57 minutes, in keeping with the clock face scheduling.

Between Modes of Transport

Rail timetables are integrated with the extensive network of postal buses (branded as PostBus, French: CarPostal, German: PostAuto, Italian: AutoPostale) which serve both plain and high mountain villages. For example on postal bus line 12.381 the 10:35 from the mountain village of Les Haudères is planned to arrive in the regional city of Sion at 11:20 where a train departs the station (located next to the bus station) at 11:24 for Visp. Indeed it is a familiar sight to for the postal cars to be already lined up outside the station for the arriving train. From this perspective, the Swiss rail network functions as the core of a wider public transport network.

Swiss Costs and Subsidies

Swiss Passenger Transport

In 2012, the total costs for passenger transport on Swiss railway network was CHF 8.88 billion, of which CHF 4.46 billion (50%) were due to infrastructure costs, CHF 3.98 billion (45%) were costs of transportation means, CHF 427 million due to environmental and health costs, and CHF 25 million due to accidents.

CHF 4.28 billion, or 48.2%, were paid by passengers, and CHF 4.15 billion (or 47%) came from rail subsidies provided by federal, cantonal, and municipal contributions. CHF 426 million (or 4.8%) were contributed by the common weal (accident and health insurances, environmental funds etc.).

Swiss Freight Transport

In 2012, the total costs for freight transport on Swiss railway network was CHF 2.063 billion, of which CHF 779 million (37.8%) were due to infrastructure costs, CHF 900 million (43.6%) were costs of transportation means, CHF 59 million due to environmental and health costs, and CHF 325 million (15.8%) due to accidents.

CHF 1.058 billion, or 51.3%, were paid by customers, and CHF 122 million (5.9%) by transporting companies, while CHF 555 million (26.9%) were subsidised by federal, cantonal, and municipal contributions. CHF 328 millions (15.9%) were contributed by the common weal (accident and health insurances, environmental funds etc.).

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