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Glacier Express on the Landwasser Viaduct
A train of the Glacier Express crossing the famous Landwasser Viaduct

The first railway in Switzerland opened in 1847 between Zurich and Baden, a distance of 16km. It was built to standard (1435mm) gauge. This gauge was used for much of the subsequent main line development in the country and for international links with neighbouring countries, although narrow (predominantly metre) gauge was used extensively in the mountainous areas and several important and lengthy cross country links are metre gauge.

Given its mountainous nature, Switzerland was also a pioneer of rack railways, long sub-alpine tunnels and, given the ready availability of hydroelectric power, railway electrification. Almost all of the country’s railways are electrified.

In addition to the main line and regional railways, there are many minor railways. These are almost all narrow gauge, and almost all have considerable tourist potential. For that reason, tourist operations are not listed separately on this page, except for a couple of museum lines. Some of the lines may incorporate on-street or roadside running, blurring the distinction between minor railways and trams. Similar minor railways in other countries may have long disappeared, but they survive in Switzerland because of the difficulty of providing a reliable road alternative in the mountainous regions.

A number of new railways are being constructed, many involving extensive tunnelling, partly for speed improvements but also to reduce vulnerability to winter weather conditions. Shuttle trains carry road vehicles under several mountain passes, and also carry heavy goods vehicles transiting Switzerland which are discouraged from using the country’s roads.

Standard Gauge Main Line Railways

Standard Gauge Regional Railways

Narrow Gauge Regional Railways

Golden Pass

Minor Railways

Industrial Railways

Museum Railways

Miniature Railways

Metro, trams and urban funiculars

Mountain funiculars

Schienenvelos (Vélorails / Draisinen)

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Photo image by Daniel Schwen from Wikimedia Commons