A sober sobriquet about Switzerland has it that “the trains run
While the saying gives short shrift to the country’s trove of
scenic and natural attractions, it also overlooks the fact that
Switzerland’s buses, paddlewheel lake steamers and peak-scaling
gondolas also maintain meticulous schedules.
The Swiss Travel System links all of these elements together
seamlessly, making the experience of getting from one place to
another a pleasure.
Consider a recent trip.
I flew Swiss Airlines nonstop from Los Angeles to Zurich, but I
didn’t check my bag to Zurich, instead I used Fly Rail Baggage to
check it through to my final destination, the mountain-clinging
village of Murren. Renowned for its winter skiing and summer
hiking, my guidebook told me Murren’s population was just 350 and
the cliff it straddles is so sheer that the village is inaccessible
I de-planed at the Zurich Airport and used my Swiss Rail Pass to
board a train that took me to the city’s main rail station. From
there, it was a quick jump to the train for Interlaken, and then I
transferred onto a cog rail train to Lauterbrunnen. Here, a
funicular was waiting to make the climb up the steep valley wall. I
disembarked from the angled train car and watched my bag being
loaded onto another train that made the 10-minute trip along the
cliff to Murren, with the charming, chalet-style Hotel Eiger right
across the street from the station.
It was a 3½-hour journey from the airport. And while it might
sound complex, it was actually easy to carry out. (The entire
schedule was available online.) What’s more, I was able to get from
LAX all the way to tiny Murren without ever negotiating with a taxi
driver or porter. In fact, during my two weeks in Switzerland
staying in six different hotels, I never stepped into a car.
With public transportation this good, who would want to?
A Scenic Experience
Travel within Switzerland isn’t limited to the famed trains. The
Swiss PostBus mail coaches that were expanded to serve as
transportation in 1906 started with three buses serving a 12-mile
route. Today, as the PostBus celebrates its 100th anniversary, the
route network covers 6,400 miles, with 2,000 buses transporting 102
million passengers a year.
The PostBus is not so much a competitor to the rail system but
an extension of the train service, reaching from the rail platform
to even more remote villages and trailheads, and sometimes offering
more direct routes than the train network provides. And some
PostBus routes have found their own acclaim, like the four-hour
Palm Express between St. Moritz and palm-tree-lined Lugano. Most
people travel this route for the memorable lakefront scenery.
Similarly, and also part of the Swiss Travel System, classic
lake steamers connect the cities and resort towns straddling the
larger bodies of water, notably the lakes of Zurich (sailing to
Rapperswil), Geneva (Lausanne, Vevey, Montreaux), Lucern (Vitznau,
Weggis) and Interlaken (Brienz). Most of the paddlewheel boats are
museum pieces that date to WWI and earlier and typically operate in
As a train admirer, however, I was content to focus my
transportation needs by riding the rails, and during my stay in
Murren I also journeyed to Jungfraujoch, the highest train station
in Europe. The cog train ride from Wengen is barely 10 miles, but
with adult fares running a stiff $120 roundtrip, it’s got to be the
most expensive train trip in the world on a per-mile basis.
Fortunately possessing a Swiss Rail Pass cut the ticket price in
Amazingly, half of this “scenic” train journey lies inside a
tunnel. But the passage is an engineering marvel, carved more than
a century ago in the heart of the Eiger, one of the Alps’ fiercest
mountains, the scene of multiple climbing dramas. It’s also
avalanche country, and as the train climbed the lower slopes early
one morning I could hear sun-touched glacier ice breaking free and
crashing down the mountain faces, the thunder echoing up and down
the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
The train slowly entered the tunnel, and halfway along we
stopped at Eigerwand, a “window” carved from the tunnel out to the
north face of the Eiger, an awesome, sheer expanse of rock and ice.
The access was utilized in several heart-stopping rescues when
unexpected blizzards swept in on climbing teams (replicated in the
1975 Clint Eastwood film, “The Eiger Sanction”). Farther along, the
train stopped at Eismeer, a south-facing window that looks down on
the 14-mile Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest, where massive folds
of snow that feed the glacier glistened like marshmallow cream.
Perched on a ridge at 11,333 feet elevation, the Jungfraujoch
terminus is more than your typical train station, it is a bustling
beehive with five restaurants, glacier sleigh rides and elevators
that escort visitors up to observation decks with sweeping views
from the top of the Alps and down to glacier caverns. I couldn’t
imagine a more spectacular place to be perched on a clear day.
There are two main types of passes sold for the Swiss Travel
The Swiss Pass is valid for unlimited travel on trains, postal
buses, boats and the public transportation systems for 37 Swiss
cities. For 2007, the second-class Swiss Pass ranges in price from
$194 for four consecutive days to $434 for one month; a first-class
pass runs $291 to $651. A Swiss Youth Pass (up to age 26) is
discounted by 25 percent.
The Swiss Flexi Pass is valid for any three, four, five, six or
eight days within a one month period, but the days do not need to
be consecutive. On the days the pass is not used, a 50 percent
discount applies for all travel. The second-class Flexi Pass ranges
from $184 for three days to $344 for eight days; a first-class
Flexi Pass runs $276 to $516.
When two or more persons travel together on either pass, each is
discounted by 15 percent.
Fly Rail Baggage service is available from all airports served
by Swiss Airlines. Bags are delivered by 6 p.m. to more than 50
train stations around Switzerland, and many hotels will arrange the
final luggage transfer. The cost is $15.
Swiss Travel System Passes (available from
Commission: 8 percent when booked online.
Timetables and route information:
Swiss travel information:
|New Swiss Travel Features|
Swiss Passes now provide a 50 percent discount on all “mountain
top” rides that previously were not covered. This includes such
famed journeys as the cog rail to the Jungfraujoch, the mountain
aerie near the summit of the Eiger and the pulse-quickening gondola
ascent to Klein Matterhorn, the glacier wrapped pinnacle on the
Swiss-Italian border overlooking Zermatt. The cost of these ascents
without the discount are $120 and $68, respectively.
The passes are also now valid for admission into more than 400
museums and exhibits around the country, including most of
Switzerland’s top art collections. The Swiss Open-Air Museum
Ballenberg, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne and the acclaimed new
Paul Klee Center in Bern are all covered.
A detailed list is available at: www.museumspass.ch