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Glacier Express on the Landwasser viaduct, Canton Graubünden (in new window)

Glacier Express on the Landwasser viaduct, Canton Graubünden© Andrea Badrutt, Chur

The railway network is very dense: on average 122 km of track for every 1000 km2 (196 miles per 1000 square miles). This compares with an EU average of 46 (74 miles per 1000 square miles). The Swiss are by far Europe's keenest rail users, making 42 trips and clocking up 1929 km (1199 miles) per person in 2005. The only country in the world which rivals Switzerland for train use is Japan. In 2005 the Japanese took more trips but travelled slightly fewer kilometers. The figure for the USA in 2001 was 0.1 trips and 32 km (20 miles.)

Despite the mountains and gorges, the railway is a model of precision and punctuality.

The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) alone carried some 285 million passengers and about 60 million tonnes of freight in 2006. The total length of the SBB network is 3,163 km (1,965 miles) - and the Swiss continue to build, while the trend overall has been to abandon lines. 

In addition to the SBB, Switzerland has a number of private railways, who operate a network totalling just over 2,000 km (about 1250 miles). In 2003 they transported about 169 million passengers. There are also 150 km (93 miles) of mountain railway lines (cogwheel and funiculars).

The trains are carefully integrated with other forms of transport - buses and boats.

The challenge of the mountains

The Swiss are expert railway builders. Trains cannot climb steep gradients, so they need a lot of track in order to gain height gradually. This is often hidden inside tunnels, which are sometimes almost circular.

The huge railway viaducts of the southeastern canton of Graubünden, built for the most part in the early 20th century, have become a tourist attraction in themselves, drawing rail enthusiasts from all over the world.

Europe's highest station is at the Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland, at an altitude of 3,454 meters (11,330 ft.)

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