Facebook Page

D A Y - O N E

Boring flight - arrived Zurich in the morning. The arrangement at the airport to transfer passengers is incredible! Typical passenger lounge at end of ramp, typical hallway with many gates and shops, then encounter passport booths - NO delays, just stamp passports and onward. Down escalators to baggage area, where there are HUNDREDS of free baggage carts. Typical carousel: get baggage - load cart and over to customs - 2 doors - "declare" and "nothing to declare"
- went to "nothing" area - guard just waved at us and we are thru the doors and in a typical airport area with doors leading out to street loading area with taxis - hotel shuttle buses - autos, etc. The difference is that there are few taxis, few buses, and almost no auto traffic (it is morning rush hour and the airport is packed with arriving and departing passengers).

Reason for few cars?
It follows:

Baggage carts all have serrated bars (with big teeth) on the bottom, and a series of 'up" escalators present themselves. Everyone just rolls carts onto escalators, teeth lock onto the steps, and up you go. Next floor has more escalators up to "departure" deck, but we are all streaming across a glass bridge across the roadway below (and under the "departure" roadway above). Into another building as big as the airport terminal, and the appearance is an indoor shopping mall. Escalators lead downward directly ahead, and the next floor down is more shopping and we are back at street level and people are continuing to another set of down escalators - that floor again is shopping, plus travel info, ticket offices, and baggage checkin/checkout for the railway system. A further series of down escalators lead to a pair of platforms and 4 tracks of the Swiss railroad system. Above each of the escalator entrances are electronic display boards showing the next 4 departures on each track, what time, and the destination. Trains go both westward to downtown Zurich and eastward to other destinations, and average 8 trains per hour in each direction, so there is at most a 5-10 minute wait for the next train. The platforms are wide and well lit and modern, and inbound passengers are getting off trains as fast as outbound passengers are boarding, thus the baggage carts are in constant use on and off the platforms (platforms as I mentioned are very wide and the carts are not obstructions).

Baggage can be checked and shipped to almost any station in Switzerland, but there is a 10 franc charge per piece (about $7), and most people just take bags with them - the platforms are high level and bags roll on-off very easily.

The city center of Zurich is a 10 minute trip away, and incredibly you can be in downtown within 20-25 minutes of leaving the airplane door!

OK - time for some details.

The airport - and the entire train system, is clearly marked in signage for EVERYTHING! Most signage is symbols instead of wordage (it does not take long to figure out what "WC" stands for - and I don't think I ever found a railway station, even a "podunk" remote stop that did not have a clean, modern "WC" if there was a building at the stop). The railway station is directed usually with a "Bahnhof" sign, but also has a symbol for a train directing you. If you can see, you can easily get from your plane to downtown Zurich regardless of what language you speak.
Also, on many of the trains in the country, PA announcements are made in Swiss-German, sometimes French, and very often English.

The main railway line from Zurich to the east splits just east of downtown and travels over 2 different routes to the next major city (Winterthur). The Swiss just took the northern route that passed closest to the airport, branched off on each side and tunneled under the terminal area, and routed inter-city express trains, regional fast-trains, and filled in the gaps with local trains to get the average 16 trains per hour over these tracks. The other 2 routes to the east do not suffer however, as although there are an average of 8 trains per hour each way thru the airport, there are approximately 20 trains each hour sent eastward over these lines.

Zurich main station is a wonder to behold. Tracks 1&2 are underground stubs that serve a couple of routes to the southwest, tracks 3 thru 18 are above ground stubs in an open-air (but roofed) station with streets along the outside tracks on each side, and tracks 21-24 are underground thru tracks (I don't know about tracks 19-20). Around the station on the 3 sides where the tracks do not approach are stores, shopping, and the departure areas of about 10 streetcar lines in special medians that do not allow auto traffic.

The 16 stub tracks serve both local and long distance trains, with electronic screens similar to airports in various places, plus a huge flipping "Solari" signboard hanging over the walk areas at the end of the tracks showing the coming departures (I didn't count, but it was approximately 10-15 rows deep and 3 columns wide, so about 30-45 trains were shown, which did not even cover the next hour's departures).
People are streaming everywhere down the platforms, as trains roll in-out with regularity. I seldom saw a train at a platform over 10 minutes from arrival to departure if it was a thru-service. Down stairs or escalators was another huge shopping mall/walking area that encompassed several blocks and further escalators down another level to the thru tracks. The downstairs is "primarily" for local service (there are about 15 passenger lines leading out of Zurich), but some long distance trains run there too - I rode a German ICE thru there later in the trip. Standing on a platform downstairs I watched 6 to 10 car locals pull in on each track, unload, reload, and pull out in less than 2 minutes. Trains alternated on each of the track pairs with a departure every 2 minutes (4 mintutes apart on each track), thus they were putting about 30 trains per hour out in each direction on each pair in the underground, plus probably 3-4 per hour on each of the 18 stubs, and you can see this is one BUSY system!

Equipment thru the swiss system ranged from narrow gauge to standard, with most local services usually 2 to 3 car trains. Regional trains usually ran 6-10 cars, as did most expresses. Long distance trains were very modern ICE-N streamliners, double-deck IC-2000 cars that were the same basic layout as the local Zurich trains, except that the commuter locals usually had doors in the ends with stairs up or down to the 2 levels, while long distance had more centered doors with a VERY BROAD curving staircase up. Doors on these cars were all electronically operated, and the doorways were 6-8 ft wide for very easy access. Older equipment tended to look a lot like the 50's era US passenger equipment, but everything I rode in was in excellent well-kept condition.

Rail travel is first and second class. First class has plusher seats, carpeting (or better carpeting), and primarily is less crowded, since it is premium priced. Virtually every train (except some very small mountain or remote services) has first class service, varying from maybe 1/3 of a car on a 2-car train to 1 or 2 cars on most trains to 3-4-5 on some long distance service. First class always has a above the window line to designate it, as well as big "1" or "2" by the doors. Also, smoking is always allowed, and cars are clearly marked at doors and internally with a cigarette or the circled "NO" symbol. If a car is both smoking and non, or more than one class, the areas are separated by solid walls (in older cars), and glass walls and doors in the modern cars.

Dining cars are limited to long-distance trains, but most trains other than locals have a "bar-cart" being moved thru the train by an attendant from one end to the other so food and drink are available. There are also some specialty food cars, including an American example.

Except for a few "compartment" cars, all cars usually are straight thru with a center aisle and allow easy movement of the bar-carts. Also restrooms are always roomy, and even second-class seating is only 2-2 (I never saw 3-2 like some commuter US lines use). First class is sometimes 2-2, but usually 1-2 for even more space.

Also, most newer trains are push-pull with cab-cars, but not the passenger coach cabs used in the US with a passenger portal if not in use. All were a full-width cab that did not allow any further passage. I saw many trains that apparently needed more capacity on parts of their runs, and typically they would have a cab-car followed by one to 3 coaches, then another cab-car, the full train, and an engine, with no passage between the 2 segments. The extra segment was apparently uncoupled if not needed. The ICE-N trains are apparently semi-permanently coupled in sets, and although I occasionally saw a single set, usually there were 2 sets coupled together.

Older equipment did not have cab cars, but I did not see equipment running with an engine on each end. This seemed to be almost always accomplished by switching the power when needed (but NOT by "running around the train" as is common in the US). Since the traffic in Switzerland is so intense, engine swapping seems to be a spare sitting at the switching point to take the train, and the dropped power becoming the engine for the next train in a few minutes.

Next, you need to understand how the swiss document their travel. Although there is a system timetable available for purchase at stations (about $10), it is comprised of a 2 inch thick (about 500 pages) book for trains plus a 3 inch thick book for the connecting buses (from stations to areas with no rail service). Although you need the system timetable to travel extensively, all travel is very simple. First, there is a large yellow poster (average 3 x 4 feet) posted in numerous places in every station. Broken out by each hour, it lists the departure time, track number, and destination of every train leaving that station (track numbers are fixed and do not vary unless they need to change, then they make PA announcements). There is also a white poster (fewer of them) showing arrivals, but departure obviously is used the most. Next, most of the stations have electronic boards above each track showing the next departure, and lastly there is usually a blue poster on each track platform showing where cars stop. The local trains are not on the blue chart, but all long distance and regional trains are shown by departure time. Track platforms are clearly marked in sections A-B-C-D-E (etc) with each section accomodating about 3 cars. A display of cars for the train will be shown ([bag}-1-1-2-2-2-[restaraunt]-2-2-1-2-2 etc) lined up under the A-B-C symbols, thus you know where on the platform to stand to be able to board the proper class of car when the train stops. I was also informed that the "A" section is always the closest to the shortest route to the Zurich main station everywhere in the country.

OK - as more details become necessary I will include them as they occur to me. Routes travelled today: 750 650 450 280 260 280 255 270 294 295 280

Anyhow, we got on a through train at the airport to our destination with our luggage, so we did not need to detrain in Zurich, zipped into the station, and left in about 10 minutes. As stated above, we pulled in on a stub track, an engine followed us in and coupled to the rear, our original power disconnected, and as we pulled out in reverse the old power followed us out, switched tracks, and went in and coupled to another arriving train to pull that out when ready to depart.

We departed in a norwesterly direction, went thru a long tunnel and thru Aarau junction (they handle 450 plus trains at that junction each day), took one of several westward mains, and arrived in Bern, the Swiss capital in about 90 minutes. Although this is a "through" station with the main line destined westward to Lausanne and Geneva, the destination of the express I was on was Italy to the south, and that line branched south a couple of miles before arrival at Bern. Thus we did another 5 minute "power swap" and departed the way we had arrived, then swung southward and in 20 minutes arrived in Thun near the base of the Alps where we would spend the first week.

We got to the hotel which sits on an island a couple blocks from the station, I "unloaded" my 3 accomplices (wife, mother-in-law, and female cousin - none are "railfans"), told them to sleep off jet-lag (I had been adjusting my time to the 9 hour difference by getting up earlier and earlier each day for over a week and was raring to go), and went back to the train station.

The main line here is from Bern thru town then south to a town called "Spiez" where there are branches to the west that end up in Montreaux and to the east in Interlaken. Both of those lines end and it is necessary to switch to narrow gauge lines to continue the journey. The main southward ascends the alps, then becomes the Lotschberg tunnel (autos are carried on train shuttles - there are no roads), then descends a huge escarpment over the Rhone river valley (runs the opposite direction out of the alps from the Rhine river) into a town of Brig. There the line again tunnels thru the Simplon tunnel and arrives in Italy. At Brig there is a main line down the Rhone valley that reaches Lausanne and Geneva, and and narrow gauge that runs to Zermatt and the Matterhorn westward and to Chur and San Moritz eastward - (all of this narrow-gauge travel is SERIOUS cog-rail mountain railway). Anyhow, we'll address those when we travel them.

The main line from Thun to Bern northward sees 2 locals per hour, 2 expresses per hour (1 each from Brig and Interlaken), plus an occasional train from Italy. Also, there is a secondary line from the Thun station to Bern for a local service on a line further west of the main that sees 30 minute service, and another line that runs to the east of the main and bypasses Bern but crosses (and connects) with all the lines running eastward of Bern. All 3 lines are boarded at the outdoor Thun station.

I pick the western line and ride a 3-car local that runs thru a series of small settlements with a stop every few minutes. Opposing trains are met every 15 minutes at passing sidings at stops (all electronically switched - I seldom if ever saw a switch thrown manually, even on the remotest lines). We come in thru suburbs and arrive in the Bern station and I look at a yellow poster, see a train departing westward in 4 minutes 4 tracks over, descend thru the tunnel (like at LAUPT), pop up on that track, and am shortly on the way to Geneva.

About 30 minutes west is Fribourg, which shows 2 local lines diverging with departures within 5 minutes of my arrival, so I get off, locate the proper track and depart on a 2-car local in a northeasterly direction towards someplace called "Ins". This line crosses another local line about halfway, and like almost every other junction, it is a merge, a common station, then the lines diverge again on the other side, making cross-platform transfers very easy (and scheduled to make the connections fit). I think I only saw one set of "diamonds" for a crossing in the whole 2 weeks.

At "Ins" (kinda a "Mom & Pop" gas-station kinda town), my local ends at a platform on a main between Neuchatel (on an east-west main further north) and Bern. I take the next train in a few minutes to Bern, and when arriving find I still have daylight left, so ONWARD! My schedule shows a local service to the southeast towards someplace called "worb-dorf" with connecting lines, and the yellow poster shows track "U2". Following the clearly marked directional signs below I emerge into an area rivaling Penn Station in New York. The upper thru station here in Bern has about a dozen thru tracks, but I find the "U" tracks another level down and find 4 stub lines radiating to the suburbs.

I board my train, and at the end of the line find my connecting line is basically a streetcar line running thru the countryside back towards Bern in another direction. It crosses the Bern-Thun mainline a couple stations south of the city and runs back downtown, and although I had planned to continue, I am "out of gas", so get off at the mainline station and catch the next local to Thun (expresses just blow thru the station at speed - you do NOT stand too close to the edges of the platforms unless there is a 3rd track in the middle for bypasses).

ANYHOW, day 1 - 8 trains ridden, and a LOOOONNGG way to go. Tomorrow - the Jungfrau/Eiger Alps with the ladies (I take them travelling every other day, then let them "shop" on off-days while I ride to my hearts content).

Powered by MSN TV