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

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.

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

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.

Read the latest news on this story here.

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.

Read also: Lausanne's EPFL named 'most international university in the world'

“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.

Read also: The Swiss train station where drivers keep forgetting to stop

For members


What is the fine for not filling out Switzerland’s Covid arrival form?

There is one essential form all travellers to Switzerland must fill out, but many don’t. If caught, border guards will hand out fines.

A 100-franc fine could be imposed on those who don’t fill out the Personal Locator Form
Important paperwork: Switzerland-bound travellers must fill out the PLF form or risk getting fined. Photo by Zurich Airport

With constantly changing travel rules, it is difficult to keep up with all the regulations that need to be followed to enter Switzerland (and all the other countries, for that matter).

Since September 20th, everyone arriving in Switzerland, regardless of their country of origin, mode of transport, or vaccination status, must fill out the electronic Personal Location Form (PLF).

Once filled out and registered online, you will receive a QR code which you will have to show when entering Switzerland.

However, some people may be unaware of the requirement and enter the country without this form.

READ MORE: Here is the form you need to enter Switzerland

Checks are done randomly, so many travellers slip in without having filled this form. But if caught, you will have to pay a 100-franc fine.

So far, 200 people had to pay this fine, according to Tamedia media group.

The only people exempted from this rule are transit passengers, long-haul lorry drivers transporting goods across borders,  children under 16, cross-border workers, and residents of border areas.

The PLF requirement is an addition to other travel regulations the Federal Council implemented in September:

Two tests to enter Switzerland are now required for the unvaccinated and unrecovered.

Unvaccinated arrivals and those who have not contracted and recovered from the virus in the past six months must show two negative tests. 

The first proof should be presented when arriving in Switzerland.  Then, four to seven days later, travellers will have to undergo another test, which they must pay for themselves.

Both PCR and antigen results are accepted.

These rules only apply to arrivals from nations not on the Switzerland’s high-risk list. As the United States and United Kingdom are considered high risk, only vaccinated people from those countries can arrive in Switzerland.

This article contains more information on the rules which apply. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s new travel and Covid certificate rules?