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TRAIN TRAVEL

Wrong seat, messy food: The little-known Swiss train rules you need to respect

Switzerland abounds with rules and regulations — including a slew of ‘unwritten’ ones. Some of them also apply to train travel.

Wrong seat, messy food: The little-known Swiss train rules you need to respect
That luggage should go on overhead rack. Photo: Ava Shvets on Pexels

Sitting on a train and minding your own business seems like a simple enough task.

But if you are a new arrival, you may not be aware of these little-known ‘tricks’ that are nevertheless an important part of Swiss ‘train culture;’ breaking them, even inadvertently, can result in a fine and / or glacial stares from other commuters.

Some things that apply to riding on Swiss trains are common elsewhere as well — such as not playing loud music, or speaking loudly on the phone, or else not keeping  your unruly children under control.

But others are possibly commonplace only in Switzerland.

Let’s start with seating.

Luggage on an empty seat

As The Local recently reported, it is a definite ‘no-no’ to place your luggage on a seat next to you on a crowded train, where passengers are looking for vacant seats.

If that happens, and requests to place your bags on an overhead rack or in a special luggage compartment go unheeded, then the conductor can demand that you purchase an extra ticket for your baggage.

READ ALSO: Why putting your luggage on the seat on a Swiss train could cost you 

Sitting in the ‘wrong’ seat

While placing your bags on an an empty seat of a crowded train is a blatant violation of common courtesy in many countries, this next one is implicitly Swiss — because Swiss people like to regulate pretty much everything, even if it makes no sense whatsoever to people from outside the country.

There is apparently the correct way of choosing a seat in a row of four (two seats each facing each other) when there is already a passenger occupying one of the seats.

The “implicit rule” is that if you join a single person in a four-seater compartment, then you should not choose the seat directly next to or directly opposite them, but the seat that is diagonally across from them.

It may help you to carry a chart with you which you can consult every time you board a train.

Sitting without permission

This may sound like going a tad overboard — no pun intended — but you should not just take the first available seat.

Not in Switzerland, anyway.

If there is someone aready sitting in that section, you should ask if it is okay for you to sit down (always respecting the implicit seating chart, of course), lest the passenger’s companion is in the restroom.

By the same token, if you are travelling alone, and someone asks to sit diagonally across from you, you should not refuse.

You can’t treat the train, which is a public transport, as your own personal space.

Correct boarding procedure

Common sense and safety concerns suggest that you should always enter the train through the doors and then take your seat.

While this probably seems intuitive to everyone, apparently some people prefer to get on through the gangway — that is, the area between the carriages — and then ride on the roof. 

At least, that is what this video from the national railway company, SBB, suggests.

Let’s just say that if you are inclined to try this — don’t.

Watch what you eat

There are no rules against eating on the train, but you should definitely not bring anything with you that will cause other commuters any degree of discomfort.

This means nothing that smells, drips, sticks or crumbles should be consumed on the train when other passengers are in close vicinity.

For the same reason, you should never leave any trash behind: if it doesn’t fit into the garbage space on the train, take it out with you and throw it out into the bin at the station.

Last but not least: train tickets

This particular rule is not exactly ‘little-known’ as it has been sufficiently covered in the media, but if you are a new arrival or a tourist, you may not be aware of it.

You must purchase your ticket before you board your train; if you do it later, or after the train departs, you will be fined.

Anyone who does this, for whatever reason, is considered a fare dodger.

This means that if you are attempting to buy a ticket while standing on a platform before your train arrives, but your app doesn’t cooperate and you receive the confirmation of purchase a few seconds after the train’s departure, you are in trouble.  

If the controller notices the infraction, you will be slapped (though, thankfully, not literally) with a 90-franc fine which, depending on the distance you are travelling, may be much more than you actually paid for your ticket.

READ ALSO: Can you buy tickets after boarding trains in Switzerland? 

This rule, by the way, is in force not only on trains, but on other modes of public transport as well — trams, buses, and trolleybuses. 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

The ‘name rule’ you should know before boarding a Swiss train

Taking a train may sound like a no-hassle undertaking, but the process is not always simple in Switzerland — especially if you are not familiar with the rules.

The ‘name rule’ you should know before boarding a Swiss train

Swiss media has widely reported the case of an 81-year-old German woman who was recently issued a fine on a Swiss train for presenting a ticket with the ‘wrong’ name on it. 

Her first name is Heidemarie, but she uses the diminutive, ‘Heidi’ in everyday life, and that was the name that appeared on the ticket she purchased online.

However, when the conductor saw that the ‘official’ name on her ID card was different from the one on the ticket, he not only gave her a 252-franc fine, but also accused her of perpetrating a fraud — even going as far as threatening to call the police.

Other passengers came to the woman’s defence and one even paid her fine, saying that the conductor’s behaviour toward the elderly passenger made him ‘embarrassed to be Swiss.’

Was the woman really at fault, even if inadvertently?

Tickets purchased through the SBB app or online always bear the passenger’s name and date of birth (which is not the case for tickets bought through a machine at train stations or at SBB counters).

A rule is that the name on the ticket should match the one on an official ID, which automatically excludes diminutives and nicknames, even as similar as ‘Heidemarie’ and ‘Heidi’.

So in this regard, the conductor was acting by the book, though accusing the passenger of intentionally committing fraud was excessive — especially since her date of birth on the ID matched the one on the ticket, and the conductor could also verify her identity by the photo.

Commenting on the incident, a spokesperson for the Swiss national railway, SBB, said that “train agents are working in an increasingly difficult environment and often have only a few seconds to judge the good faith of a customer.”

However, this does not exclude being flexible and treating each ‘offence’ on a case-by-case basis.

Nevertheless, the company issued an apology to the passenger “for the inconvenience.”

Another important ticket rule you should know about

If you are new to Switzerland, or are just a visitor passing through, you must purchase your ticket before you board your train; if you do it later, or after the train departs, you will be fined.

Anyone who does this, for whatever reason, is considered a fare dodger.

This means that if you are attempting to buy a ticket while standing on a platform before your train arrives, but your app doesn’t cooperate and you receive the confirmation of purchase a few seconds after the train’s departure, you are in trouble.  

If the controller notices the infraction, you will be slapped (though, thankfully, not literally) with a 90-franc fine which, depending on the distance you are travelling, may be much more than you actually paid for your ticket.

READ ALSO: Can you buy tickets after boarding trains in Switzerland? 

This is a ‘written’ rule, but there are a few ‘unwritten ones as well that you need to follow on Swiss trains to make sure you are on the right track.

These are the ones you should know about:

READ ALSO: The little-known Swiss train rules you need to respect 

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