Travel news For Members

Why Switzerland beats Germany for reliable trains

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
Why Switzerland beats Germany for reliable trains
The Inter City Express, ICE 4, of Deutsche Bahn, arrives at Interlaken Ost station in Bern, Switzerland. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Peter Schneider

Last year, trains in Switzerland were over 30 percent more punctual than their German counterparts and a Swiss transport expert has shed light on the reasons for the difference in reliability between the two countries.


In June, the punctuality of long-distance trains reached a new low for the year in Germany, with only 63.5 percent arriving at their destinations on time. 

According to Deutsche Bahn, the increase in delays is due to the fact that, currently, almost 70 per cent of ICE and IC trains pass through at least one construction site on their route, as the rail operator scrambles to update the network infrastructure by replacing 480,000 concrete sleepers throughout the system.

But the delays on the rail network aren't only a persistent source of aggravation for commuters in Germany; they have been having knock-on effects when it comes to crossing the border into neighbouring Switzerland for some time.

Last year, the vast majority of the most frequently delayed trains in Switzerland began their routes in German cities and in Basel, half of arriving international trains from Germany are consistently late. Now, the Swiss rail authorities regularly stop trains arriving more than ten minutes late in the city and redirect passengers onto Swiss trains so as not to clog up the network with incoming delays. 

READ ALSO: Why Swiss transport authorities want to ban German trains

In its recently released service concept for 2035, the Swiss Federal Office of Transport proposed stopping Deutsche Bahn trains at border cities to prevent future delays. 

Why are trains in Switzerland more punctual than in Germany?

In 2022, Germany had one of the worst punctuality rates in Europe for its long-distance trains, with only 63.6 arriving on time. Switzerland, however, topped the table, with a 96.3 percent punctuality rate for long-distance trains.

In a recent interview with the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport, Peter Füglistaler, laid out what  Germany can learn from how Switzerland runs its rail network.

READ ALSO: Why is Deutsche Bahn seeing a record high number of delays this year?

First and foremost is the importance of investment.

According to the transport expert, Switzerland invests four times more per capita in its railways than Germany, even though the German network is seven times larger. If Germany wanted to match the Swiss level of investment, it would need to invest about €36 billion annually in the network to achieve the same quality as Switzerland.


In reality, in 2023, the level of investment in Germany amounted to less than half of that.

"If you invest too little, as the Germans have done for a long time, you won't notice the negative consequences for many years. By the time you feel it, as is the case in Germany now, it's too late. It will take a few more years for the situation to improve," Füglistaler said. 

That's why good planning is important, too.

"To produce a good product called the railway, you need good planning, established processes, and sufficient resources", Füglistaler added.

But aside from money, there is a range of other, smaller measures that help maintain the punctuality of Swiss trains.

For example, in Switzerland, delayed trains are regularly stopped before the terminus and replaced with other connections.

READ ALSO: German trains 'responsible for Switzerland's worst delays'

"That allows us to be more flexible," Füglistaler says. "In Germany, on the other hand, trains travel all over the country and, if in doubt, drag around a delay for hours."

This is easier in Switzerland, however, because the routes are shorter than on German long-distance routes. 

Other lesser-known advantages of Swiss railways are wider doors to allow passengers to get on and off quickly, shorter distances between signals on the track, and the absence of high-speed trains like the ICE.


"We also don't have high-speed trains like the ICE, and therefore we don't have such big speed differences on the lines, traffic flows more smoothly," said Füglistaler.

A focus on transporting more passengers, rather than high-speed trains, also helps the rail traffic flow more smoothly in Switzerland than in Germany, the transport expert said. 

"Our advantage is that within a maximum of ten minutes, passengers get a connection at the hub stations. Here, passengers in Germany often waste a lot of time they gained with the ICE."


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also