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TRAIN TRAVEL

The night trains to take from Switzerland around Europe this summer

If you want to avoid overcrowded airports during the summer months, then travelling from Swiss to European cities by train is just the ticket.

The night trains to take from Switzerland around Europe this summer
Your ride from Swiss cities to foreign lands. Goodnight. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP

You can take a train at any time of day, of course, but nighttime ones offer you an opportunity to save time — you travel while you are sleeping, and arrive at your destination in the morning.

Swiss national railway, SBB, offers 12 international night routes jointly with foreign companies, which means you can go far and wide to many places in continental Europe .

Travelling with Nightjet

Nightjet is the overnight train operated by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB).

They run every evening from Zürich and Basel central stations to Amsterdam, Berllin, Cologne, and Hamburg.

They also operate nightly from Zurich HB to Vienna and Graz.

All the trains depart from the Swiss cities in the evening and arrive at their destinations the following morning.

Travelling with EuroNight 

Just as Nightjet, this company is also owned by the ÖBB, which operates the lines partnership with the national railways of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.

This means that a denser network of countries that are farther away than Germany and Austria are within your reach.

For instance, you can travel to Prague from both Zurich and Basel’s central stations, as well as to Leipzig and Dresden.

From Zurich HB, you have trains to Budapest, Ljubljana, as well as Zagreb.

Exact timetables for all of these night trains can be seen on the SBB page here.

Are night trains comfortable?

Let’s just say you will probably not sleep as well as you do in your own bed at home, though on the other hand, the click-clack of the wheels on the rails may lull you to sleep.

Your degree of comfort depends mostly on the kind of compartment you are in (which means, basically, how much you are willing to spend on your ticket).

These are your options

If you book a sleeper cabin on a Nightjet train, for example, you can get an (almost) proper bed with sheets and a pillow, in addition to other amenities like your own private shower and toilet, as well as à la carte breakfast.

A bit lower in the sleeping car hierarchy are ‘couchettes’, which accomodate four to six people.

They are equipped with shared toilets, which may be fine if you are traveling with family, but less so with strangers.

Standard breakfast is also included in the price of your ticket.

Then there are ‘regular’ seating carriages, so you either sit up all night or try to sleet in a sitting position the best you can.

On EuroNight too, different comfort categories are available, with individual compartments more spacious and comfortable than couchettes and seating cars. 

How do you purchase tickets for night train out of Switzerland?

Like any tickets, within or out of Switzerland, you can buy them online on the SBB website or via your SBB app. 

Prices will depend obviously on what category of car you are booking, as well as whether you have an SBB /SwissPass discount travel card.

Keep in mind, however, that whatever type of discount you have (half-fare or general), it can only be used on the Swiss route network; it is not valid for travel in foreign countries.
 

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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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