Getting around by train
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Travelling through Switzerland by train is invariably comfortable, hassle-free and extremely scenic, with many mountain routes an attraction in their own right. Swiss Federal Railways or SBB-CFF-FFS (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses, Ferrovie federali svizzere) has long been heavily subsidized by the state: maintaining a modern, integrated, ecologically sound transport system has been a top priority of successive Swiss governments and today fares are affordable, equipment and rolling stock are state-of-the-art, and staff motivation is high. SBB was privatized in 1999, but corner-cutting in the near future seems unlikely.

SBB covers virtually the whole country, but there are a few routes, especially Alpine lines, which are operated by the individual rail companies which constructed them often a century or more ago. Two of the largest of these are BLS, which runs the pivotal Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon route between the Swiss capital and Italy; and RhB, the Rhätische Bahn, which operates services within Canton Graubünden. There are dozens more of these private lines, often tiny concerns used by local people to get to and from their nearest town, sometimes massive enterprises ferrying thousands of tourists from valley to summit and back again.

Ticketing systems are well integrated, though, and you don’t really need to know which company is which, since each route has only one company providing services: you never have to shop around between competing offers. Swiss travel passes always get discounts on these smaller lines, normally of between 25 and 50 percent; the only difficulties come with pan-European rail passes, since different companies give different levels of discount, or no discount at all, to Inter-Rail and Eurail passholders. These are mentioned in the text where relevant.

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