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More questions about Swiss rail system and the Bernina Express?

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Jun 26th, 2014, 01:20 PM
  #1
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More questions about Swiss rail system and the Bernina Express?

Because of so many wonderful suggestions here I've changed my plans for the Swiss portion of our visit. We Will take the train directly from the airport in Zürich and travel to Pontresina. After three nights there we will do the Bernina express route to Tirano. I'm still trying to decide whether to use the local trains or the Bernina express. The regular train leaves Pontrsina at 9:04 and arrives at 11:12. Unfortunately, the train to Varenna leaves 3 minutes earlier. The Bernina express train leaves Pontresina at 9:52 and arrives in Tirano at 12:02. The train to Varenna leaves at 12:06. That leaves only four minutes to buy the ticket to Varenna and get on the train, is that possible?
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Jun 26th, 2014, 01:35 PM
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No not probably IME - the Swiss Bernina Railway station is just opposite the Italian station but you do have to move from one station to the other.

I would either try buying the Tirano-Varenna ticket in Switzerland or go to www.trenitalia.com and see if you can book it there - but this is a regional train and I believe it may not be possible to book it on www.trenitalia.com but if it is voila!

You may want to put an hour or two into Tirano - not the finest Italian town but one with restaurants, etc for a pause if need be - several within walking distance of the station.

I suspect you could buy that ticket in Zurich and have it all solved - regional trains in Italy do not require reservations and none are possible I believe - it's a flat fare ticket good on any regional train and I think all trains on this route are regional ones.

But even if you had a ticket the chances of getting on that train 4 minutes later IME is iffy - Bernina train could be late - yes that Swiss trains run like clocks, always on time is IME a myth - and there are Customs potentially to go thru - even though Switzewrland is now I believe in the Schengen zone you never know when you may have to wait in line to pass thru Customs or police checks when entering Italy.

I would schedule a later train and relax in Tirano for a while. Or take a later regular train on the Bernina Route.
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Jun 26th, 2014, 05:23 PM
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As PalenQ says, there are cafes right by the train stations in Tirano. Would you really want to chance missing a train when you can get there, get a cup of coffee or a snack, and have confidence that you'll make your train to Varenna?
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Jun 27th, 2014, 04:54 AM
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I would say it is impossible to change stations, buy a ticket in 4 minutes - even if you have a ticket it would be a stretch. Why do Italian Railways schedule the departing train so that no one on the arriving train - the only other train coming into Tirano - can't catch the other one?
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Jun 27th, 2014, 05:30 AM
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Have you figure out yet that the two stations are within sight of one another? Could you RUN between the two in less than four minutes? Yes and you could walk the distance. Are Swiss trains ever late? Yes they are and if we are only talking about a couple of minutes you are sunk.

The train to Varenna is run by TrenNord and I assume you could buy a through ticket or at least a ticket for that segment before you board your train in Switzerland.

You need to know what the schedules are for the next train. There is a cafe in the TrenNord rail station so you could get something to eat and drink. And, if you are one of those people who is just dying to "meet the locals" then your train has just arrived!
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Jun 27th, 2014, 06:51 AM
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Not if taking the official BExpress you should reserve seats ASAP - these trains fill up - largely with groups - IME - regular trains you can of course just hop on any train with a ticket or pass.
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Jun 27th, 2014, 08:41 AM
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Some regular trains even have open-air flatbed train cars - the ultimate panoramic/observation cars such as the Bernina Express has - you just sit out with no walls - no windows - seem to be levitating thru some of Europe's most dramatic scenery.

Not all regular trains have these however but some do - no reservations of course - just hop in - 2nd class cars.
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Jun 27th, 2014, 08:42 AM
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Advantages of the Bernina...panorama cars with bigger, much BIGGER windows (in First anyway). Pal is correct, the thing can easily sell out in terms of the P-cars and sometimes one of them will be completely reserved by a tour group.
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Jun 27th, 2014, 09:08 AM
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It looks like both 1st & 2nd class on the Bernina Express have the panoramic windows. What the differences between 1st & 2nd?
Also a question on buying the tickets. If its more than 2 months out you just make the reservation for the seat. then you buy the ticket at the station and you are guaranteed your seat? Is that correct? Thanks
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Jun 28th, 2014, 09:35 AM
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Difference between first and second class is like on most trains - 3 seats in a row in first class - one seat by the window with an aisle to - just an isolated seat and then two seats on the other side of the aisle.

In 2nd class there are two seats and two seats - or 4 seats in a row rather than 3 - so seats are obviously significantly bigger in 1st class - more room to stow luggage as less people fending for space in the same-size train car.

On regular trains a huge difference is that fewer people ride first class and often there are many empty seats - that's why I like the regular Bernina Pass trains better than the official BE - BE is always chock full when I've taken it or observed many of them -can't bop back and forth as the scenery dictates like you can on the regular trains, especially in first class on them.

so IME on the official BE you have less of a difference than on most trains as even first class will likely be all full - and since they have observation/panoramic cars in both classes I think on the official BE I'd say the difference in classes is minimal, except for more leg room with bigger and fewer seats in the same-size train car.
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Jun 28th, 2014, 02:52 PM
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on any train be sure to get a seat on the westward facing side - right side if going to Tirano from Pontresina/St-Moritz as themost dramatic scenery is mainly on that side. Though on local trains there are no reservations possible I believe and you can hop from side to side as there are usually empty seats on the official BE you may well be stuck in your seat on a full train - sp if booking book right!
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Jun 29th, 2014, 01:21 AM
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If the weather is nice then the regional trains are the best option - because they have these open open-air flatbed trains that Pal mentioned above. They are added to the regular cars on the leg ST. Moritz - Poschiavo; it's the ultimate fun on this route.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 05:00 AM
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OK, Pawleys, what did you finally decide to do? And are you staying at a hotel in Varenna or somewhere across the lake?
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Jun 29th, 2014, 07:35 AM
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I think only some regional trains have those open-air cars not all of them - they are indicated in the official schedules for the Rhaetische Bahn, which runs both the BE and the local trains on that route.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 10:47 AM
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Talk about being indecisive! Finally reserved my seats on the official Bernina express in first class. I have Not purchased my tickets yet. I'm so excited about the Pontrsina section of my trip.
Yes, I did book the DuLac in Varenna for 3 nights. This is the most involved itinerary I have ever attempted. At one point I have 12 people For whom I'm planning. We'll be six in Pontresina, 8 on Lake Como, 12 in Florence and in a villa in Chianti, and then 4 of us will contine on for 6 days on the Amalfi coast.
It's the trip of a lifetime for me and I'm trying to do a lot of planning on the front end. I know that with 12 people unless it's planned carefully there will be many other ideas on site,and lots of fumbling around.

Thanks so much for all your suggestions. It has been so helpful to read the discussions.
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Sep 22nd, 2014, 05:57 PM
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One of the postures says on the BE to sit on westward facing side. When making reservations how do I determine which seats are on the westward side?
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Sep 22nd, 2014, 11:16 PM
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yestravel... we just took the train in june, and i worried about which side we would be on... and in the end, it really didn't matter either way. there were empty seats and all of the views were beautiful. i wouldn't worry too much.

at the same time--- i thought that the BE was a tiny bit of a letdown... if i had it to do again, i'd probably take the less expensive train.

if you really do want to figure out the westward side... email the BE office. we emailed them with some questions, and they wrote long personal notes back. we were surprised!
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Sep 22nd, 2014, 11:30 PM
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"One of the postures says on the BE to sit on westward facing side?"

That might depend on WHICH part of the Bernina Express line you are traveling and what you most want to see.

When deciding whether to take the labeled "Bernina Express" or another train on that regional line, you might want to give greater consideration to the convenience of the timing, rather than the acoutrements of the trains themselves. JMO.
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Sep 23rd, 2014, 05:17 AM
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westward side seats when going to Tirano would be on the right side of the aisle - the other direction of course the left side.

Having ridden that train several times most of the stunning scenery is on the west side of the train - the nice thing about the locals is that since they are rarely full you can flit from one side to the other as the scenery dictates - the official BE are usually chock full so your are stuck in your seat.
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Sep 23rd, 2014, 05:48 AM
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Those windows in the Panorama cars are big enough that even if the train is full you will have a good view.

There is no way that I know of for you to reserve seats on one side or the other specifically unless you call the Rhaetian Railway directly and even then I am not certain but you could try.

The phone number is 41 81 288 65 65
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