Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Swiss trains don’t run like Swiss clockwork

You know the saying – ‘it runs like clockwork’. The Swiss are world famous for the accuracy of their watches and clocks. But apparently the same precision of time doesn’t extend to their trains. You might be quite surprised – I’m frankly amazed – but Swiss trains rarely seem to run on time.

Here’s an example. I’m currently staying just outside a small village 18kms north of Geneva that I’ve nicknamed Sticksville. There’s nothing there – it feels like it’s out in the sticks. To get to work each morning, I hike 10 minutes along roads with no footpaths; then get a bus to one of two towns, either Coppet or Nyon; then get the train to Geneva. It’s a bit painful, but really, there are people in the world with worse commutes.

But I’m quite reliant on public transport, and I need to rely on that public transport being on time, as the bus to and from Sticksville village only runs every 30 mins. Miss it, and I’ll be waiting in the cold for nearly half an hour. Thankfully I haven’t missed it yet, especially since the weather has become much colder – daytime temps are currently only around 1C.

So this evening on the way home from work, I thought I would take a train to Nyon that would give me some time to run into the supermarket to pick up some food before I caught the bus for Sticksville (because of course, there’s no supermarket in Sticksville).

The train for Nyon was scheduled to leave Geneva at 6.00pm precisely. When I arrived at the designated platform, I was a little confused – there was another train sitting there, with the destination of Geneva Airport. Then, looking up at the departure board, I noticed that this train was due to depart seven minutes’ late. The train finally leaves, and my train for Nyon pulls up; the sign flicks over to say that the train will now leave five minutes’ late, at 6.05pm. I think to myself ‘okay, slightly annoying; probably now won’t make the supermarket before the bus leaves, but at least I’ll still make the bus with a couple of minutes to spare’.

Wrong. I get on the train and wait for it to leave. And wait; 6.05pm ticks past and we’re still waiting. I glance at my watch: 6.10pm. I now think it’ll be touch and go to make the Sticksville bus, let alone pick up some food. We’re still waiting. Other passengers look at their watches. The train finally gives up a small cough and crawls at snail’s pace out of the station. I check my watch: 6.15pm, 15 minutes’ late. If the train had been on time, I would’ve been at my destination by now.

I realise that I now won’t make the Sticksville bus from Nyon, and decide to get it from the other direction by getting off the train a stop early at Coppet. I hop off at Coppet at 6.26pm, just a minute before the bus leaves in Nyon and feel sorry for those still on the train who have no choice but to get buses from Nyon; they’ve certainly missed them. I get the bus to Sticksville from Coppet with no problems, but with no nearby supermarket, I head home empty-handed.

However, if that isn’t bad enough, confusion often reigns at Geneva’s Gare Cornavin train station. They frequently change platforms where trains depart from, often with only a minute or two notice before it’s *supposed* to leave. Announcements are made over the public address system and people inwardly groan and shuffle along to the new platform.

For a Swiss public transport system, I’m utterly stunned at the – admittedly quiet – chaos that sometimes prevails. For a nation famous for its precision in timing, the lack of it among its transport system beggars belief. It’s something completely uncharacteristic and unexpected. I’m glad to see however, that not even the Swiss are perfect.

1 comment:

  1. I am stunned. When I lived in Zurich 19 years ago, I was completely amazed at how well the public transport worked. If a train ran late, very rare in my experience, connecting buses with a 20+ minute operating schedule, would be waiting for the passengers from the delayed train. It would appear, possibly, that the London Transport Authority has taken over the scheduling and running of the Swiss transport system. It can be the only explanation as your tale sounds exactly like a daily experience for London commuters.