SBB planning new direct trains between Switzerland, London, Rome and Barcelona

SBB planning new direct trains between Switzerland, London, Rome and Barcelona

London, Barcelona and Rome, all a direct train ride away from Switzerland? After it was ordered to look into the idea back in May, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has confirmed that it is planning new routes between Swiss cities and major destinations in Europe. The public transport provider said the new route planned between Basel and the British capital would take around five hours and is designed to compete with flying.

SBB planning direct rail services with Europe

At a press conference in Parma on November 20, the head of international passenger transport at SBB, Philipp Mäder, confirmed that the firm would be looking to connect cities in Switzerland with major European capitals and top destinations. “We want to expand our core network, create better transfer connections and introduce additional connections,” he announced.

Specifically, he confirmed that new direct night trains should run between Zurich and Rome and Zurich and Barcelona in the near future. A seasonal service to the Italian beach resort of Rimini is also on the cards, Mäder added.

Basel to London direct train would take just five hours

Most excitingly for rail enthusiasts across the continent, Mäder also announced that “as a long-distance destination, we are looking into a direct train from Switzerland to London.” He explained that the planned route would run between Basel and London St. Pancras through the Eurotunnel - it is currently unclear whether the train would make stops in France on its way to the British capital.

Mäder explained that Switzerland to London and back remains one of the most frequently flown routes from Swiss airports, with 20 services between Zurich and London taking off every day. He argued that with a travel time of just five hours, the train should be able to compete with flying in terms of speed, considering the time it takes to get through security, immigration, baggage reclaim and actually getting from a London airport into the centre of the city.

The idea is not without precedent either, with Mäder noting that “if we compare the time between flights and trains, we are fully competitive on the routes to Frankfurt, Paris or Milan.” Even where journey times are longer than flying, such as between Zurich and Hamburg or Vienna, the train remains popular with those looking for a more sustainable way to travel.

What hurdles do the new rail routes have to overcome?

However, some hurdles still remain. Back in May, Transport Minister Albert Rösti said that while he remains fully behind the project, questions remain as to which company would actually run the Basel to London route. He noted that if SBB were to run the train, they would have to accommodate passport, visa, security, entry and fire protection requirements in the UK before the service could be made a reality.

Mäder also acknowledged that getting the rights to run through the Eurotunnel and on the UK’s High Speed 1 rail line would be expensive, adding that they “are [also] not yet where we want to be” when it comes to booking international rail tickets - something the company should only start to offer through their app in 2024. For instance, Mäder said that the company "can currently sell train tickets for travel to Spain, but not tickets for travel within Spain. That needs to change."

Nevertheless, he said that the future of rail travel is bright, predicting that the number of people using the railways will double between now and 2050. He called for rail companies to work with politicians to make more direct routes possible: “We need rails, trains and modern infrastructure at the train stations.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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