Switzerland is considered to have the best public transport network in Europe, according to the Railway Performance Index. There are five railway companies in Switzerland, with SBB - the Swiss Federal Railways, a state-owned company - being the largest. Many use public transport every day to get to work, with many locals also using public transport during the holidays. Each council (Gemeinde) has the opportunity to fund local transport services through the tax system, which usually leads to every town having at least a bus connection to a nearby station.
Many cities in Switzerland have a fully integrated transport system, with the country connected by several intercity lines to Germany, France, Austria and Italy.
Types of public transport in Switzerland
Switzerland has many different forms of public transport that allow for fast and efficient journeys. Although there are several companies that operate in Switzerland, they all unite under a joint timetable. This means that all trains and bus services will be able to connect with one another and you only need a single ticket, regardless of what type of transportation you use.
Intercity trains (IC)
Intercity trains are train services that connect the major cities. They are fast services that only stop at large rail centres or at airports. There are 10 intercity routes that go across Switzerland, with some going further to Stuttgart and other cities in Germany. On timetables, they will be marked with an IC (or ICN if it is a tilting train). You can store large luggage on these services and check your bags in if you book in advance. Talk to the information centre at a large city station for more information.
Interregional trains (IR)
Interregional trains are services that travel between two to three counties (cantons). They travel at the same speed as intercity trains but stop at large regional centres as well as cities. The services can be booked in advance, and you can use the luggage service if you book ahead.
Regional Express (RE) & Regional Trains (R)
Regional Express and regional trains in Switzerland are local trains that travel between large cities within a canton that do not need an intercity connection. These services only stop at medium to large centres on a route that is less frequently used. Regional express trains are also the trains that are used to access most ski resorts in Switzerland as many of the alpine rail networks use RE services. You can only use the luggage service on certain routes on the network, such as between Zurich and Schaffhausen.
The S-Bahn or commuter trains are trains that are used by mass transit systems to connect small towns to larger cities. In Canton Zurich alone, there are over 23 different rail routes that connect small communities with the heart of the city. S-Bahns typically stop at every station and are extremely regular, with around four trains an hour on each route. Many S-Bahns also connect between regional centres, the difference being they stop at every station.
Trams & Trolleybuses in Switzerland
Trams and trolleybuses can usually be found in major cities and are integral to getting around. Many tram networks span a large area of the city and can be dramatically faster than driving. In cities without trams, trolleybuses usually take a similar role. Each tram has a set route and can have up to 12 services each hour.
Buses are a common part of the Swiss transport network. Practically every small town or village in Switzerland will have a bus route to the nearest station. The buses are timed so that they connect with at least one S-Bahn rail service an hour.
Boat services in Switzerland
Many tickets also permit you to take any boat service that is in the area you have paid for. Boat services are essential in order to travel across lakes in Switzerland. Many communities are isolated with only the boat as a means of transport. Boat services in cities are slower than other forms of transport but can be an excellent way to see the city or to have a relaxed lunch on the water.
Extra services (Extrafahrt)
Extra services are rail and tram services that are additional to the original timetable. In most cases, these occur when there are large concerts or sporting events on. It is not recommended to use these services if you are not attending the event as the atmosphere may be livelier than on a regular service.