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Here’s how you think Swiss trains can be improved

Recently, The Local asked its reader what Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) could do to improve its services: here are some of your responses.

Here's how you think Swiss trains can be improved
Children use one of the SBB's onboard Ticki Park playgrounds. Photo: SBB

When it comes to trains, Switzerland is a world beater. In May, the SBB came out top in a survey of European rail operators in the inaugural Great Train Comparison conducted by British travel portal Loco2, winning plaudits for its “sophisticated offering” for people with disabilities, cycle-friendly trains and opportunities for bike rental at stations.

And a month earlier, the country’s railways were named Europe’s best in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index which looks at factors including quality and safety of service.

But despite the glowing reviews, regular users of Swiss trains know that there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to the thorny issues of pricing and free, on-board internet.

Recently, we asked readers of The Local Switzerland to tell us how they would like to see the country’s train system improved and got feedback from the SBB. Here is what we found out.

1) Ban smoking at train stations

The fact that you can still smoke at Swiss train stations was one of the most frequent complaints among our readers, with people raising concerns about both health and a lack of cleanliness.

Fortunately, we can offer some possible good news here. Back in February, the SBB began a limited trial of smoke-free areas at six train stations around Switzerland. If the results are positive, the limited ban could be introduced at all stations around the country. On the negative side, there is no talk of a complete ban on smoking at train stations for now.

2) Include Swiss Pass information with the mobile app so you don’t have to carry the actual half-price (halb-tax/demi-tarif) card when you travel

The SBB told The Local this is currently being worked on, and that an electronic form of the Swiss Pass will soon be fully integrated into the app. This means passengers will not have to carry their Swiss Pass card in future.

The Zermatt mountain railway. Photo: Depositphotos

3) Introduce free Wi-Fi on board all trains

The lack of free, onboard Wif-Fi has long been a bugbear for many regular users of Swiss trains. While there is free Wi-Fi available (for 60 minutes) at 80 train stations around the country, it’s a different story in train carriages.

Only last month, the SBB appeared to rule out free internet on trains, with reports the train operator would instead work on improving 3G and 4G mobile services on trains with the use of so-called repeaters.

But in an about-turn, the SBB Chairman of the Board Monika Ribar recently told Switzerland’s NZZ paper that the SBB is now planning to roll-out free, onboard internet. Further details can be expected in the second half of 2018.

4) Make the SBB mobile app more user-friendly

Several readers commented that the mobile app is not particularly user-friendly, with one person commenting that user settings are not always saved in the app meaning personal data has to be re-entered from time to time.

According to the SBB, the following settings are saved locally on people’s smartphones: Touch-Timetable, the Start Page, information on half-price or GA/AG travel cards and details of fellow passengers.

But the SBB told The Local the following data is lost when people log out: regional transport travel card settings, the Touch ID function, and settings allowing for the password-free purchase of tickets up to 40 francs.

The rail operator said this data was deleted after users logged out for security reasons.

The Bernina Express. Photo: Depositphotos

5) Eliminate the half-price travel card and charge everyone the same rate

The idea that Switzerland should abolish its half-price travel card has been doing the rounds this year, with public pressure mounting on the SBB to bring down the cost of its notoriously pricey tickets.

In fact, and partly in response to the arrival of new, private, long-distance bus lines, the SBB has started to bring down some fares – mostly in the form of cheaper Supersaver tickets (only available online) and a larger supply of cheap day travel cards.

But despite the support of customer rail organisation Pro Bahn Schweiz and an apparent willingness on the part of the SBB to consider the concept, the idea of scrapping the half-price card for cheaper prices across the board is still controversial. Some people argue there is a serious psychological benefit in offering people a ‘half-price’ ticket in terms of promoting increased use of the train network.

6) Get rid of the paper Junior Travel Card and Children’s Co-Travelcard

One reader told us the SBB children’s travel cards, currently made of paper, quickly fall apart. In this case, we have some good news: these should be integrated into the Swiss Pass when the new timetable is introduced in December 2018. That means no more carrying ratty paper cards around in your wallet for 12 months.

7) Increase luggage space

It's a common sight: train aisles filled with suitcases around airports and major hubs. This makes getting on and off carriages difficult and can be a source of aggravation when people also leave bags on seats.

The SBB told The Local it worked with experts to maximise space for baggage including overhead areas and space between and under the seats, as well as dedicated luggage areas. The railways company also pointed out that its new double-decker trains come with multi-functional areas where seats can be folded to make space for more luggage when necessary.

8) Lack of respect for prams and bicycles

One reader pointed out that passengers on trains often fail to respect the areas set aside for prams, strollers and bicycles, and that this made if very difficult if you were travelling with those items.

She said the SBB should make greater efforts to inform passengers how essential such space is to passengers who need it.

Read also: The Swiss station where trains keep forgetting to stop

For members

CHRISTMAS

Your complete guide to Switzerland’s best Christmas markets in 2019

Christmas is just around the corner, which means its just about time to don a winter hat and get a hot cup of Glühwein. Here are the ten best Christmas markets in Switzerland.

Your complete guide to Switzerland's best Christmas markets in 2019
The Christmas market in Montreux. Photo: Depositphotos

Every diverse region of Switzerland celebrates Christmas with its own cultural tradition, and there's no better way of experiencing these differences than by visiting a local Christmas market. 

While some run for almost a month, others only last a weekend – so make sure to get in while you can. 

Interlaken

Photo: Interlaken Tourism

The Christmas Market in Interlaken is built around the massive Ice Magic skating complex (3000 square metres), which features five rinks all linked by runways.

If you're not confident on the ice, fear not. You can sign up for skating lessons and, bringing a taste of Scotland to Swiss markets, there is also a curling lane available for booking. 

Of course, there's also more than 100 stalls to browse and a chalet-style restaurant to enjoy. The market runs from December 14th until 22nd, but Ice Magic opens on December 14th (running into the new year). 

Montreux

Photo: Montreux Noel

Now in its 24th year, the Christmas Market in Montreux is known for its grandeur and spectacle. Stretching along the lake promenade (which is, of course, specially lit up for the occasion), the market offers thousands of gift ideas for grown-ups and children alike.

New attractions this year include a 3D light show, craft workshops for kids, a gourmet area and an open-late bar. Or just stick with the classics and visit Santa Claus, enjoy the carnival rides then wash it all down with some tasty grub and Glühwein.

Runs from November 21st to December 24th.

Basel

Photo: basel.com

The Christmas Market in Basel is said to be the oldest in Switzerland, and the people living in the city are well known for getting into the festive spirit with lights and decorations.

No wonder, then, that there are not one but three Christmas Markets to enjoy there. Basel's offering is known as one of the biggest and best markets in Switzerland and was recently voted as the 8th best in Europe – so naturally there is a whole lot of fun to be had.

The children's railway, craft workshops, the delicious Basel Läckerli (a hard, spiced type of biscuit) and performances from the Basel Music Academy are just some of the reasons you might want to stop by. The markets run from November 28th until December 23rd. More information can be found here.

Einsiedeln

Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image

Einsiedeln might be small, but its Christmas Market is known as one of Switzerland’s best. As well as offering 130 stalls, the market is said to be the home of the world’s largest nativity scene – with a whopping 450 colourful figurines telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

The stunning backdrop of the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey and its twin spires adds to the fairy-tale feeling and the nearby gingerbread museum really puts the icing on the Christmas cake (gingerbread is a local speciality).

You'll have to get in early to catch it though; it runs from November 30th until December 8th.

Zofingen

Photo: Weihnachtsmarkt der Sinne Facebook Page

Like Einsiedeln, Zofingen isn’t the biggest. But its “Christmas Market of the Senses” is worthy of a mention for the remarkable way it offers guests a sensory experience. 

The market provides more than 200 stalls within the cosy old town setting, as well as a section just for “medieval” wares – and there’s a support programme to keep you entertained too. Short and sweet, the market runs from December 6th to December 8th.

St Gallen

Photo: Photo: St.Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus

The Christmas Market in St Gallen is another popular one – and for good reason. During advent, the city is lit up by 700 stars, covering the streets and the stunning medieval abbey district.

Guests can enjoy an advent tour of the city and a concert within a UNESCO World Heritage site cathedral. The market features a selection of handmade products and, for any carnivores out there, the region’s traditional sausage is well worth trying.

The St Gallen Christmas market runs from November 24th until Christmas Eve. 

Bremgarten

The medieval town of Bremgarten in Aargau hosts one of Switzerland’s bigger Christmas Markets, with more than 320 stalls filled with trinkets and delicacies to browse.

It is well worth a visit if only so you can say that you've been – but be warned; the Bremgarten market is popular and is usually very, very busy as it takes place only on one weekend.

In 2019, the market will take place from December 5th until the 8th. 

Willisau

Photo: Christkindlimärkt.ch 

Flying perhaps a little under the radar, the Christkindlimärt in Willisau, canton Lucerne, is nonetheless a bit of a favourite with locals.

The romantic old-town setting and the daily performances compliment the festive feeling and there’s a packed programme to keep the kids happy.

Don’t miss the yodelling Christmas concert, and make sure you try some Ringli – a sweet local delicacy that's a bit like a very crispy doughnut.

Running for just three days, the Christkindlimärt opens on December 6th and closes on December 8th.

Ticino

Photo: Ticino Tourism Facebook Page

Ticino is always worth a visit but perhaps even more so when it’s Christmas time.

Featuring a market inside a UNESCO World Heritage site castle, a massive (2000 square metre) ice rink in Locarno’s Piazza Grande and all the usual festive fun with a distinctly Mediterranean flavour, this one is not to be missed.

Dates vary in different places, so be sure to triple check before you head in. Some only run for a short period of time – with the market in Locarno open for just one day (December 8th). 

Yverdon-les-Bains

Set in and around the town’s stunning medieval castle, the Christmas Market in Yverdon-les-Bains is a mostly traditional affair that is notable for being a little more relaxing than some of its peers. You’re unlikely to have to fight your way through the crowd here, giving you more time to enjoy a few drinks and soak up the Christmas spirit. The stalls mostly feature regional produce (including local beers) and there’s also an ice-rink to enjoy too.

Bern

For more than 30 years, Bern's Christmas Market has aimed to offer guests what it calls a quiet and sensitive take on Christmas markets. Featuring arts and crafts of the “highest quality”, the market is set in front of the imposing Munster cathedral and runs from December 1st to December 24th. It also runs entirely on renewable Swiss energy. 

Neuchatel

Photo: Artisanalesdenoel.ch

Neuchatel’s Christmas Market has been dubbed Switzerland’s “largest indoor market of craft-creators” and organisers put a particular emphasis on showcasing the region’s craft and culinary specialities. Plus, the fact that it is indoors means you won’t have to worry about the weather. The market runs from December 8th to December 16th.

Morges 

Photo: Morgesmarchedenoel Instagram

The Christmas Market in Morges isn't the biggest but it does win points for its historic qualities as it is set in and around a castle that dates back to the 13th century. This year, the castle grounds will be home to 20 chalets that surround a large tented restaurant area. There will also be a healthy selection of artisan stalls and attractions to keep children interested.  

Lucerne

Every year, Lucerne's Franciscan square in the heart of the city's old town is converted into a winter wonderland full of colourful wooden houses. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the market is rightfully known as being one of Switzerland's most attractive.

With around 70 stalls to enjoy and a variety of entertainment for children, the market runs from December 5th to December 22nd.

Lausanne

Christmas in Lausanne is like nowhere else. “Traditional but extremely modern” is the tagline they like to use and they certainly back it up. The annual festival of lights sees installations set up all over town, and even though they sometimes have very little to do with Christmas, they do help boost spirits. 

Markets in Lausanne are actually held in three different locations, each with its own style. There's lots for the kids to enjoy, a nice selection of local craftwork to browse and, of course, lots of wine. Markets run between November 20th and December 31st. More information on locations can be found here.

A version of this story was originally published in November 2018. 

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