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Swiss rail travel: What compensation you are entitled to if your train is cancelled?

Switzerland boasts an efficient and punctual rail network, but sometimes things go wrong. What can you do if your travel is… derailed?

Swiss rail travel: What compensation you are entitled to if your train is cancelled?
Though water may seem abundant in the alpine country, it could become an expensive commodity. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

On Wednesday, the Swiss media reported an incident that happened at the Zurich station on July 18th: the night train going to Budapest was four wagons short.

Passengers who had reserved seats on the missing carriages could therefore not board, and tempers flared, causing chaos on the platform. 

Although the train in question is operated by the Austrian Federal Railways, it was up to the Swiss railways (SBB) to resolve the mess in the middle of the night.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Stranded passengers were put up in hotels and their tickets will be reimbursed up to 50 percent of the price. 

“This refund leaves much to be desired, since travellers are in no way responsible for what happened”, said Blick newspaper.

This incident raises the question of what kind of compensation can stranded travellers claim in Switzerland if their train is cancelled?

As is the case with airline travel, these incidents are compensated in accordance with the European Union’s “Rail Passenger Rights” regulation, which applies to train travel within the EU. 

Switzerland has compensation guidelines relating to both domestic and international travel.

For instance, on the national network, you are entitled to recoup 25 percent of the ticket price for delays of 60 minutes or more. For a delay of 120 minutes or more — which was the case with the Budapest-bound train —  50 percent of the ticket price is refunded.

Under the SBB and the EU rules, ‘delay of more than 120 minutes’ also includes cancellations.

The same compensation rules apply to international travel. The only exceptions are TGV connections, where refunds can be claimed for delays of 30 minutes or more.

Tickets costing less than 5 francs are not compensated. 

If you are unable to reach your destination due to a cancellation or a delay, then the SBB will pay for overnight accommodation and breakfast up to the value of CHF200. 

More compensation regulations — including those relating to cancellations and lost luggage — as well as refund claim forms, can be found here.

What can you do to get better compensation for disrupted train travel?

As refunds offered by SBB only partially cover your expenses, the only way to recoup the entire sum is to take out a travel cancellation insurance.

It applies to all travel, not just by rail.

However, before signing on, read the conditions carefully to see what exclusions apply. The Local has covered this subject in detail in this article:

READ MORE: Covid travel cancellations: What costs will Swiss insurers cover?

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it also has a great location right in the centre of Europe, making it an ideal starting point for train travel. Here are five destinations you can reach in less than five hours from Zurich.

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

As summer is still in full swing and there are many vacation days (or free weekends) to enjoy the sunny weather, it’s not the wrong time to do some travelling. Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it’s also centrally located in Europe. This means that many major European cities are reachable in just a few hours.

If you are located in Zurich, for example, then you are very near Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. In less than five hours, visiting beautiful cities in these five countries is possible by taking a comfortable train ride.

So, select your final destination, get your ticket, and enjoy the ride.

READ ALSO: Switzerland’s ten most beautiful villages you have to visit

From Zurich to Strasbourg

It will take you just about 2 hours and 30 minutes (including time to stop and change trains in Basel) to get from Zurich’s mains station to the beautiful and historical city of Strasbourg, in northeast France.

Prices vary depending on several factors, but we found one-way tickets for just around CHF 23 on a Friday.

From Zurich to Munich

The capital of Bavaria can be reached from Zurich’s central station on a direct train in just 3 hours 30 minutes, allowing for short stays.

Munich may seem quite far away on a map, but the fast trains without stopovers actually make the journey quick and pleasant. We found one-way tickets for around CHF 70 on a Friday trip.

From Zurich to Vaduz

The capital of Liechtenstein is easy to reach in less than 2 hours from the Zurich central station. In fact, some journeys will take just about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The lovely town bordering Switzerland has many tourist attractions, from its pedestrian historical centre to castles and parks. Train ticket prices always vary, but we found tickets for a one-way journey on a Friday costing CHF 20.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

From Zurich to Milan

Depending on the train you take, you can get from Zurich to Italy’s fashion capital in three to four hours with a direct train.

Before 2016, when the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened to rail traffic, a trip from Zurich to Milan took an hour longer. It’s possible to find tickets for about CHF 70 for a one-way trip on a Friday.

From Zurich to Innsbruck

From Zurich, it is possible to hop on a direct train and, in just over 3 hours and 30 minutes, arrive in the beautiful town of Innsbruck, in the mountains of Tyrol.

Ticket costs vary, but we found tickets for a relatively short-notice one-way trip on a Friday (without discounts) for CHF 84.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Cost:

Fares depend on several factors, such as time of the day and day of the week when you travel.

While a rock-bottom cheap fare may be available one day in the morning, it won’t necessarily be offered the next day (or week) in the afternoon, or vice-versa.

Prices also depend on whether you are entitled to any discounts and which wagon you choose.

If you are interested in travelling farther afield, including with night trains, or if you are in other Swiss cities, these articles provide more information:

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