Taking the train to the slopes just might be easier than you think…
Now, I don’t want to put down rail travel in Britain… but let’s face it, travelling by train has kind of lost its romance here. Booking all but the simplest journey requires an enormous amount of time, knowledge and money… and then when you come to take your journey it’s no surprise to find that ‘due to the late arrival of the incoming service…’ there has been a problem with the seat reservations, so you find yourself jostling for space, nose-to-armpit with your fellow travellers, juggling suitcases that won’t fit into the oversubscribed luggage racks… No wonder we can be a bit sceptical.
Now imagine a place where the trains are always on time… They’re also clean, frequent and they even have sufficient carriage space to meet demand! One company governs the whole transport network, including buses and ferries, so tickets are straightforward. You can choose between smoking and non-smoking, regular and quiet carriages (no iPods allowed)… On some routes you can even choose a glass roofed carriage to better enjoy the scenery! Oh… and should you get thirsty they have dining cars and a trolley service with freshly ground filter coffee, espresso and even herbal tea. What’s more…? There are integrated rail stations at every major airport, and for a small fee it’s possible to check your luggage right through from your UK airport to your hotel… and back again. Sounds too good to be true?? Well those are just a few of the benefits of rail transfers in Switzerland.
Here’s a little story for you… a few years ago I worked as a holiday rep in Luzern, Switzerland. My friend and I had taken the train across the border to St Anton in Austria for a short break. On the evening we were due to return our train was delayed due to a signalling problem in the Arlberg tunnel. This made it likely that we would miss our connection and not make it back to Luzern – where we had guests arriving early the next morning who expected us to meet them. The station manager was sympathetic to our plight and called ahead to the Swiss station in Feldkirch where we were due to connect, and they agreed to hold the train for us! Whilst mightily relieved, we didn’t realise quite what a big deal this was until we read in the news the following day… ‘a regional train had to wait 15 minutes for 2 British girls from a delayed Austrian service. The knock on effect of this saw trains throughout Switzerland delayed by around 2 minutes.’ Perhaps it was a slow news day? But it does illustrate just how punctual the Swiss trains are!
Travelling to go skiing can be a bit of a pain. Even if you pack lightly you will have a reasonable amount of ‘stuff’ and the idea of carting this on and off a train, particularly if your journey necessitates a change, puts some people off. The good people of Switzerland have a solution for this and it’s called ‘Fly Rail Baggage’. The principle is a simple one: pay a small fee and when you check-in your bags in the UK they will be automatically transferred to your resort station. Arrive into Zurich or Geneva before midday and your bags are guaranteed to arrive the same day. And it works! If your flight doesn’t arrive until a bit later then it’s probably best to collect your bags at the airport and carry them yourself. Sounds like a pain? Not at all: In Geneva and Zurich airports the train stations are in the main Airport terminal building so you can take a lift from the baggage carousel to the station with your trolley. Once on the train you’ll find space for luggage in every carriage.
This sounds expensive, right? Wrong. Rail transfers are excellent value for money and generally cost less than road transfers. Tickets for travel on Swiss Rail couldn’t be more straightforward: Your Ski Independence Reservations Consultant will be able to advise whether a transfer ticket or a point-to-point ticket is the most economical for your journey. Whichever ticket type you travel on you will not be tied to a particular service. Point to Point tickets are valid for any routing between the two specified stations, whereas Transfer Tickets are issued as blanks and are valid for travel from any entry point into Switzerland to any destination within Switzerland. You just write on the details! Your tickets will be sent to you with the rest of your travel documentation and we’ll always include a timetable of suggested services too. Don’t worry about seat reservations either: Even peak service trains are not busy.
What if your journey to resort involves one or even more changes? Don’t worry. Mountain resorts like Zermatt, Verbier and Saas Fee are still really easy to reach. The Swiss travel network has a number of major hubs which are connected by direct services; then smaller lines access nearly every town and village in the country. Sometimes, where geography makes it impractical to have a railway, part of the journey may be made by bus (or even boat!) but these are timetabled to connect seamlessly. For example, the journey from Geneva Airport to Saas Fee will take you by train to Visp, then the Postbus takes you from Visp to Saas Fee for the final 40 minutes. Connection time from train to bus – generally 12 – 15 minutes. Perfect!
What if you don’t like the idea of a long transfer? Well, you’re quite right. No-one wants to sit cramped up for 4 hours, particularly if you have children in the party. Even eye-spy loses its charm after a while! This is where the train comes into its own: you can walk around, grab some lunch, have a glass of wine… First class carriages have power sockets and wireless internet is being rolled out where possible. Families are well catered for with special family carriages – some with a play area and board games. But it would be foolish to overlook one of the best activities available on the Swiss Trains… looking out of the window! The scenery is spectacular wherever you look, but there are special ‘scenic routes’ which have panoramic glass roofs. The journey from Geneva to Zermatt takes you along part of the Glacier Express – one of the world’s greatest rail journeys. Seat reservations in the Panoramic carriages are usually necessary and will incur an additional fee, but even in a regular carriage the view is sure to take your breath away.
Well, I hope this has helped you understand the wonders of the Swiss Rail service. It really is an incredible way to travel and you don’t have to be a ‘train geek’ to appreciate how well things work. Why not give it a go next time you hit the slopes…?