Students use algorithm in bid to visit all 26 Swiss cantons in less than 24 hours…by train

Students use algorithm in bid to visit all 26 Swiss cantons in less than 24 train
Emmanuel Clédat and Dirk Lauinger from the EPFL technology institute. Photo: Alain Herzog/EPFL
Students from Switzerland's EPFL federal technology institute are this Friday hoping to set a new time record in the Swiss Train Challenge which sees participants trying to step foot in all of the country's 26 cantons in under 24 hours using only public transport.

The current record for the very Swiss endeavour is 17 hours and 19 minutes set by a team from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino last year.

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That impressive feat came after journalist and Swiss Train Challenge founder Nicolas Rossé set a time of 19 hours and 46 minutes in 2015 – an achievement which came before the 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel through central Switzerland opened in 2016.

But the team from the EPFL believe they can now go one better. With the help of an algorithm, they think they can make it to each and every canton in just 16 hours and 54 minutes, according to a press release from the technology institute.

To come up with the algorithm for their travel route, the team had to collect data on Switzerland’s 22,080 train stations and bus stops as well details of cantonal borders and the complete public transport timetable.

The trick was then to identify the most useful train stations in terms of connections and find the most efficient way of working in all the cantons.

The students left St. Maurice in the canton of Valais at 5.24am on Friday morning and if all goes according to plan they will pull in at Jakobsbad in Appenzell Innerrhoden at 10.18pm this evening.

But it is not all going to be smooth sailing. Among the challenges is a train transfer time of exactly zero minutes at Alpnachstad in Obwalden.

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“The previous winners had to make the journey twice to set their record. We might also have to make a few trial runs before we reach our goal,” said EPFL PhD student Dirk Lauinger.

If the team do manage to set a new record time, they will have Switzerland's almost miraculous public transport network to thank. It is hard to imagine anywhere else in the world where connections could be counted on enough to complete the task.

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