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Question about train travel in Switzerland

Question about train travel in Switzerland

Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 05:05 AM
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Question about train travel in Switzerland

We have our hotel reservations, but now have questions about Swiss trains.

Ten adults will be traveling from Zurich to Engelberg to Zermatt to Grindelwald to Zurich during two weeks in July. For convenience, we're getting the Swiss Flexi Pass (2 people per pass) for 15 days.

Ten years ago, my husband and I traveled by train through Switzerland, and I remember the cars as being quite crowded and sometimes hard to get a seat. I guess our plan should be for each couple to grab their own seats, but it would be nice to be together. Any suggestions?

Also, I know there are 1st and 2nd class cars as well as smoking or not. Now I see there are quiet and family cars. I feel as though sorting out all the options will be as difficult as trying to get in the right lane for the NJ Parkway toll booths!

What is the difference between a Regular train and an IC train? Is the latter train the one that has compartments for about 6 people? I think I remember that as being rather confining and uncomfortable.

Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.
Clousie is offline  
Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 05:27 AM
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Hi Clousie. I can only contribute the following from my experience: Purchase a 1st class flexipass if you want less crowding, reserve seats at the station or at the Swiss Rail website ahead of time, visit that SBB website and notice the time difference between regular and IC trains (actually there are more variations than that) to see that one will make many more stops, and finally do some math to see if a pass is your best deal (if indeed those are your only point-to-point train trips; I use my pass several times a day). Lastly, I have not been on a Swiss train that still has compartments for several trips now. Maybe others can tell you if some routes still have compartmented cars. Have fun. J.
Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 05:29 AM
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Clousie: You better take at look at the swiss rail website and do some calculations. The 15-day pass is not a flexi-pass, and it comes in either 1st or 2nd class. You pay more for 1st class (a little more comfort). However, the price of your journey looks to be less than the pass price. CHF 292.20 point to point and CHF 410.00 for the 2nd class pass! Best bet if you have trouble figuring this out is to ask Bob Brown on this board for help. He has the pass calculations down to a "t".
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Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 05:33 AM
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I live in Switzerland. An IC train is an inter-city train. This generally means it is a double decker train and is quite new and comfortable. The regular trains are one level and may be older, they are also often local commuter trains that make more stops than the inter-city trains.

I have not yet seen the old-style trains with actual compartments, I thnk the Swiss got rid of them. I still find them in other parts of Europe, notably Italy. I have found Swiss trains to be generally very clean and comfortable. Most have restaurant cars (more like snack bars) plus a person coming through with a snack and drink trolley.

I understand it is possible to reserve seats in second class, although I myself have ever done this. If your pass is for first class, you can definately reserve seats. As you are traveling in July, which is a popular travel month, I would try to reserve if you can. As you are in a large group, you may get special treatment. Take a look at the Swiss Rail website at SBB.ch. (Click on "Swiss Federal Railways" at the top right of the website to get to the English version.)

The family cars just have a small play area, there aren't often on every trais; you will more often see them on the IC trains. You can tell them from the outside becasue they have animals painted on the cars. They tend to be a little bit noisier with kids in the car. The quiet cars are great, you aren't supposed to talk on the phone or have loud conversations. Of course, the Swiss are generally pretty quiet and cicumspect, so a regular car is not really a problem.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 06:09 AM
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I'm sorry, Tubby, I did mean a Swiss Saver Pass, and besides using it between cities, imagine we'll be using it most days for side trips.

I'm glad to hear that the old compartment trains are mostly gone. As I said, we were there 10 years ago.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 06:15 AM
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I've used the Swiss Saver Pass several times and am expecting my 22 day version to arrive today for this summer. I'm a big fan of it, and everytime I add up my trips, I find that I come out way ahead with the pass. And that doesn't count the discounts for lifts, and all the "free" boat trips we tend to do. After a day of hiking while staying in Lucern, for example, I love walking over to the boat landing and taking a little circle trip to nearby villages in the late afternoon and evening -- so beautiful, so relaxing, and "FREE" with the pass. First class really is nice and worth the money to me, because the cars will be less crowded, and you get the top level of the boats -- way less crowded.

Once you get to Switzerland you can make reservations for any of the special or scenic train trips -- including the route into Zermatt, to make sure you all can sit together.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 06:32 AM
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I second everything Patrick writes, and I add that the Swiss Pass will give you most city transportation as well. J.
Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 06:51 AM
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In my experience it has not been possible to reserve seats for trips that occur wholly WITHIN Switzerland with the notable exceptions of some "premier" trains such as the Glacier Express. Even in the very busiest season I have rarely had trouble finding seats in First Class and don't be daunted in the least by all these "distinctions" such as Eurocity (EC) Intercity (IC) InterReggio, etc., etc., which generally indicate a type of service. Whether it is IC, EC, Interreggio, etc., does not necssarily dictate the type of coach configuration. I've seen a multitude of types on all trains although the double-decker Swiss rolling stock is wonderfully quiet and clean.
I'm somewhat surprised you haven't yet been torn apart by the Fodors' "Don't Be Stupid And Buy A Pass" Police. I agree that passes only become "economical" the farther your travel/the greater the mileage. But all those "big bucks" you're supposedly foolishly spending on a pass gives you a greater degree of convenience and flexibility than point-to-point tickets that some of us are willing to pay for.
I hope you have a wonderful time!
Old Apr 23rd, 2003, 07:38 AM
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Due to the small size of your group, you have 2 options: either just travel as if you were 5 separate couples or go as a group - the latter will require a bit more organizational effort and reduce your flexibility some, but should be cheaper and guarantee reserved adjacent seats, thus resulting in a more pleasant trip.

If you want to plan for the entire group, you should contact the Swiss Federal Railways directly, by phone or e-mail. Here's the info:

They have special offers for groups of 10 or more (20% discount & 10th person travels free) and can handle ticketing, seat reservation etc. in one go. That said, the trips you are planning to take all involve segments on private railways - still, I almost certain the Federal Railways will be able to arrange the entire journey.

If you want to do things on your own, seat reservations are possible for IC/EC at a nominal fee (around 5 CHF per person with up to 1 connection).

Regarding train configuration:

- There are hardly any trains with separate 6 person compartments still running in Switzerland. Almost all main line trains are open plan with 4 abreast seating in 2nd and 3 abreast in 1st, generally with 2 rows facing each other (2 goups of 4 in 2nd and 1 group of 4 + 1 group of 2 in 1st), although there is some airplane-style seating.

- The "quiet cars" are actually the lower level of the double decker IC cars. I would avoid them if there are 10 of you, as you are supposed to remain as silent as possible in them.

- The "family cars" have a small play area and are designed for families with small kids, so nothing for you either.

Hope this helps,
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Old Apr 25th, 2003, 02:00 PM
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Compartement cars have disappeared more than 5 years ago, except in a few international trains to and from Italy, Germany, Austria and France.

Groups of 10 and more people can reserve seats FOR FREE til 3 workdays before the departure.

They can also buy GROUP TICKETS which cost 25 % less than the normal fare. A GROUP TICKET may be cheaper for your trip. With the SWISS FLEXI PASS, however, you get a 50 % discount for mountain transports, as the Mt Titlis cable.

You really should check it with the Swiss Railways whats the best option for you.
Mathias is offline  
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