Swiss Trains are AMAZING. They run on time and get you to pretty much any place in Switzerland.
Handy map of Switzerland and its train system: http://www.swisstravelsystem.ch/fileadmin/pdf/STS-GB-M-11-EN-WEB.pdf
Here is some basic information on what approaches to take when buying train tickets:
DISCOUNTS FOR ANYONE:
Half fare card = 150 CHF to obtain – knocks all train / boat / cable-car purchases in half.
*You can just use it to reduce your fare in half
OR *Holders of half fare card may purchase day cards for 64 CHF which provide unlimited travel for a whole day on all SBB trains and Post Buses. Day cards after 9am are 48 CHF but can’t be used Sat, Sun or holidays
How it works: you must buy in Switzerland upon arrival. You must have a small passport photo.
Pro: If you are here a long time, such as living here, or visiting and traveling long distances, it could be worth it
Con: It is a year pass, non transferable
DISCOUNTS, ONLY FOR TOURISTS:
Swiss Pass – must buy not in Switzerland at ST offices and travel agents or www.swisstravelsystem.ch in advance of your trip. Covers all travel on rail, buses and boats and some cable ways. Must validate at airport upon landing in Switzerland. 4 day = 260 CHF, 8 day = 376 CHF, etc. Must be concurrent days. You get 15% discount for 2 adults.
Note: you must validate it to start or you’ll get in trouble
Pro: If you travel every day long distances, this is a good value
Con: Must be used in concurrent days so isn’t a good value if you are resting in cities or in Geneva other days
Swiss Flexi Pass – allows between 3 and 6 days travel within one month. You get 15% discount for 2 adults. On the travel days, you can have free travel on most public transport. On days in between, you can travel for half the fare. You are also entitled to receive a discount on many gondolas, funiculars and mountain trains. 3 days = 249 CHF 4 days = 302 CHF 5 days = 349 CHF
Note: you must validate it for the days you use it
Pro: Makes a lot of sense if you are here for a week and we are traveling a lot in Switzerland
For more, see this: http://www.myswissalps.com/swissflexipass.asp?lang=EN
OR, BUY AS YOU GO
Supersaver single tickets – provide large discounts on selected long distance routes –http://sparbillette.sbb.ch (limited in number and only 14 days out).
Pro: Good to know about for one-off trips
Con: you can’t book up until 14 days in advance
Buy as we go on the machines at the train station. You can see timetables and quote trips at:
Con: not as many savings
What is best is to do the math for the individual trips. Example, If you invest in a 150 Half fare card, you can deduct the fares in half, but do the number of trips you plan to do make up the 150 CHF investment? With the Swiss Flexi pass, are your savings more than adding up the trips? If not, it might be cheaper to buy as you go. Use this URL to quote one-off trips:
Please note that with day passes, Swiss passes and Swiss Flexi passes, you must Validate your ticket in an orange machine, provided on all platforms by inserting the ticket into the slot.
Some things to know about Swiss trains:
-The big train signs that show where to go to catch it always list the end destination. If you are not going to its’ end destination, make sure to note the other stops to confirm it is your train. It will then give you a “Voie” or “Bin” which means the # of the track your train will come on.
-If your destination isn’t listed and its more than 15 minutes until yours departs, don’t assume you are in the wrong place. Trains come through every 10-15 minutes so yours will show up soon if you are the correct Voie.
-Once its time for yours, your board will change. Then the next train that arrives is safe to get on. Also use the clock shown to verify. If its 13:29 (1:29pm), then its too early for the 13:42. If its 13:35-13:40, then this is about the time when it will arrive.
-Take heed to make sure you enter the trains marked 2 if you are in 2nd class. Otherwise, you might be contributing to Switzerland’s economy more than you want.
-They don’t check your ticket to get on the train, but shortly into the trip, someone comes by. You must have all forms of documentation – for example, your ticket plus your half fare card together.
-They have bathrooms
– They do have a drink/food cart and on longer trains, a dining car. However, the food cart doesn’t look appealing and is expensive so consider bringing your own snacks and food (plus a bottle of wine!)
-You do not get assigned seats unless you are going to another country (France, Italy) or riding a scenic train (Glacier Express, Golden Pass, Bernina Express, William Tell). But you might get booted at some point from yours if you are sitting in someone’s who is doing a trip like this.
-If you ride the scenic trains, you might want a reservation in addition to your ticket. It guarantees you a spot on the panoramic car. It is also important if you are traveling in a group and really want to sit together.
-You can generally get off in a city that looks appealing for a few hours, and hop on a later train to your destination. This might not work as well off-season on scenic trains (like the Glacier Express, which only goes once a day), but is generally true!