Switzerland, that landlocked country of fondue, chocolate, iconic peaks, and lustworthy timepieces, is also renowned for having the world’s most relentlessly on-time trains. Their “Swiss Travel System” is a near-miraculous public transportation juggernaut 16,000 miles long, with 28,863 stops, and also includes boats and busses that haul more than 1.8 million passengers annually. It’s only fitting that Switzerland is home to Europe’s oldest mountain railway (Vitznau to Rigi-Bahn, 1871), has the highest railway station (Jungfraujoch) in Europe at 11.332 feet, and the world’s steepest cogway railway that chugs up the side of the mountain at a 48 percent gradient (Pilatusbahn Alpnachstad-Pilatus).
Having recently spent ten days traveling on a Swiss train—one that picked me up in Lucerne at 6 am sharp and deposited me many stops later in Geneva at exactly 9 am—I had to ask: “How did they do that?!” So I found Isabella Ignacchiti Drüeke a spokeswoman for the Swiss Travel System and here’s what she told me:
“The secret lies in the development of tools of quality management, for which Swiss are distinctive. More concretely, we can say that the maintenance of the infrastructure plays a crucial role,” she says.
“The timetable system is so structured that at least every hour there is a train departing from each destination to another to guarantee the service of train, bus, and boat connection thought Switzerland. The connection with bus and boats are studied to depart/arrive always on the same time and exactly to be used from people arriving from another destination by train. The same is valid also vice versa and for all trains connections in Switzerland.”
Additionally, she told me, Swiss Railways and private lines have a route control system so that if there is an accident or a technical problem, they are able to let the next train pass through first.
While it’s unlikely that a hurricane the strength of Frankenstorm will hit Switzerland, a monster snowstorm this winter is almost a guarantee. But the Swiss have it covered: All exchanges are heated to prevent them from freezing and all railways have mechanical means for the removal of snow. The one downside to this technological brilliance: The hallowed American “Snow Day” excuse won’t fly here.
Photo: Swiss Travel System