Swiss Federal Railways

"SBB CFF FFS" redirects here. For other uses of these acronyms, see SBB (disambiguation), CFF (disambiguation), and FFS (disambiguation).
Swiss Federal Railways
Native name
(German) Schweizerische Bundesbahnen
(French) Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses
(Italian) Ferrovie federali svizzere
(Romansh) Viafiers federalas svizras
Fully state-owned limited company (AG) regulated by public law
Industry Rail Transport
Founded 1 January 1902 (1902-01-01)
Headquarters Bern, Switzerland
Key people
Andreas Meyer, CEO
Revenue Increase CHF 8.319 billion (2013)
Decrease CHF 238 million (2013)
Total assets CHF 36.412 billion (2013)
Total equity CHF 11.004 billion (2013)
Number of employees
30,977 (2013)
Divisions Passenger, SBB Cargo, Infrastructure, Real Estate

SBB network (for the whole Swiss railway network see: Rail transport in Switzerland)

Dates of operation 1 January 1902present
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 15 kV, 16.7 Hz Overhead line
Length 3,138 km (1,949.9 mi)

Swiss Federal Railways (German: Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB), French: Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses (CFF), Italian: Ferrovie federali svizzere (FFS)) is the national railway company of Switzerland. It is usually referred to by the initials of its German, French and Italian names, either concatenated as SBB CFF FFS, or used separately. The Romansh version of its name, Viafiers federalas svizras, is not officially used.[1][2][3]

The company is headquartered in Bern. It used to be a government institution, but since 1999 it has been a special stock corporation whose shares are held by the Swiss Confederation or the Swiss cantons.


Swiss Federal Railways is divided into three divisions and two groups:

The corporation is led in an entrepreneurial manner. A performance agreement between Swiss Federal Railways and the Swiss Confederation defines the requirements and is updated every four years. At the same time the compensation rates per train and track-kilometre are defined.

Subsidiary SBB GmbH is responsible for passenger traffic in Germany. It operates the Wiesentalbahn and the Seehas services.

Further subsidiaries are Thurbo, RegionAlps, AlpTransit Gotthard AG, Cisalpino AG and TiLo (the latter in consortium with Italian authorities). The Swiss Federal Railways hold significant shares of the Zentralbahn and Lyria SAS.

To maintain heritage, the Stiftung Historisches Erbe der SBB ("SBB Historic") was founded in 2002. This foundation takes care of the historic rolling stock and runs a technical library in Bern, document and photographic archives, and the SBB poster collection. (TM)


ICN between Zurich and Winterthur

The Swiss Federal Railways rail network is totally electrified. The metre gauge Brünigbahn was SBB's only non-standard gauge line, until it was out-sourced and merged with the Luzern-Stans-Engelberg-Bahn to form the Zentralbahn, in which SBB holds shares.

SBB is often known as the world's most on time type of transportation[7]


Historic SBB push-pull train consisting of BDe 4/4, A, ABt near Hettlingen ZH

In the 19th century, all Swiss railways were owned by private ventures. The economic and political interests of these companies led to lines being built in parallel and some companies went bankrupt in the resulting competition. On 20 February 1898 the Swiss people agreed in a referendum to the creation of a state-owned railway company. The first train running on the account of the Swiss Confederation ran during the night of New Year's Eve in 1901 from Zurich via Bern to Geneva, although 1 January 1902 is observed as the birth date of Swiss Federal Railways. In the meantime, the trains were run by the Swiss Confederation on behalf of the private companies.

The following railway companies were nationalised:

Other companies were included later, and the rail network was extended. It is still growing today.

On 1 January 1999 the Swiss Federal Railway has been excluded from the Federal Administration and became a fully state-owned (the federal state owns 100% of all shares) limited company regulated by public law (German: öffentlich-rechtliche Aktiengesellschaft).

First class compartments were discontinued on 3 June 1956, and second and third class accommodation was reclassified as first and second class, respectively.

In 1982 SBB introduced the Taktfahrplan ("clockface timetable"), with trains for certain destinations leaving every 60 minutes, greatly simplifying the timetable.

Example of integrated timetables between interregional and regional services on the Swiss network. The two trains are programmed to meet in the hub of Geneva at 15:30, sharing a platform, to minimise transfer times.

On December 12, 2004 the first phase of Bahn2000, an ambitious programme to improve the company's services, was put into effect.[8] The core element was the Zurich-Bern-Basel triangle, where travel times between the cities was reduced to under one hour, resulting in good connections from these stations for most trains. Some connections between cities got two trains in each direction per hour or more, and the S-Bahn services were intensified to four or more trains per hour. Because of these changes 90% of the timetable was changed, 12% more trains were scheduled and travel times generally improved. It was the greatest timetable change since the introduction of the Taktfahrplan.

For this change to be possible, large parts of the infrastructure had to be modified and many stations were rebuilt, for instance the line from Ziegelbrücke to Sargans or Bern main station which got the "wave of Bern", a platform over the tracks to provide better access to the platforms and the city centre.

On 22 June 2005 a short circuit on a long distance power transmission line in central Switzerland led to a chain reaction. The entire Swiss Federal Railways network was out of service during rush hour and an estimated 200,000 people and 1,500 trains were stuck at stations or somewhere on the track. It turned out that the SBB power transmission network was overloaded and did not provide enough redundancy to tolerate the shutdown of the 4 cable Amsteg-Steinen power line due to construction works. So, the power grid was split in two parts, the northern half being overloaded and the southern half having a load reduction for the SBB power plants are situated in the southern part (the Alps), while most of the power is needed in the northern part (the Swiss plateau). The situation led to high voltage fluctuations and finally breakdown and emergency shutdown of the entire power supply.

In the same year, the Swiss Federal Railways received the Wakker Prize, an award given out by the Swiss Heimatschutz (an institution aiming to preserve the view of cities and villages in terms of buildings), which is usually only granted to communes, for their extraordinary efforts. The Swiss Federal Railways have many high-class (listed) buildings from well-known architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, Santiago Calatrava or Max Vogt.

In May 2010, SBB's first integrated network control centre opened in Lausanne, to supervise all of SBB's network in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Another integrated control centre will be opened in Zurich.[9]

All trains and most buildings have been non-smoking since the timetable change of 11 December 2005.

By the end of 2006, the corporation was handed over from the long-term CEO Benedikt Weibel to his successor Andreas Meyer.


For more details on this topic, see Swiss railway clock.

The Swiss Federal Railways clock designed by Hans Hilfiker has become a national icon.[10] It is special in that it stops for just over a second at the end of each minute, to wait for a signal from the master clock which sets it going again — thus keeping all station clocks synchronized.[11][12]

On 20 September 2012, Swiss and world media reported that the design of this clock had been copied without prior permission by Apple Inc. and used in the iOS 6 clock application on Apple devices.[13] The issue was settled with Apple paying the Swiss Federal Railway service about 20 million Swiss Francs for its use of the clock design.[14]

Rolling stock

The inside of a double deck intercity train

Mainline locomotives

Steam engines of the early days of the Swiss Federal Railways were, among others, the Ed 2x2/2, E 3/3, A 3/5, B 3/4 and C 5/6.

The first electric trial runs using single-phase alternating current were made in 1903 on the line Seebach - Wettingen together with the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO), using the future Ce 4/4 locomotives ("Eva" and "Marianne"). The electrification of the network started 1919, motivated by the coal shortages during the First World War, and new electric locomotives were introduced: Ce 6/8 II/Ce 6/8 III "Crocodile" (1920/1926), Be 4/6 (1920), Be 4/7 (1921), Ae 3/6 I (1921), Ae 3/6 II (1924), Ae 3/6 III (1925), Ae 4/7 (1927) and Ae 4/6 (1941). A shift of paradigms happened in 1946, when the age of modern bogie-based locomotives without trailing axles started with the Re 4/4 I (1946), followed by the Ae 6/6 (1952), Re 4/4 II/Re 4/4 III (1964/1971), Re 6/6 (1972), Re 450 (1989) and Re 460/Re 465 "Lok 2000" (1992/1994).

The delivery of the last Re 465 marked the end of the Swiss locomotive industries with the closure of the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works. The Swiss Federal Railways were split into three divisions - Passenger, Freight and Infrastructure, each with independent locomotive supply policies. Because the Passenger division got all modern Re 460 and opted for multiple unit trains, mainline locomotives were bought only by the Cargo division, namely Re 482 "Traxx F140 AC" (2002), Re 484 "Traxx F140 MS" (2004) and Re 474 "ES64 F4" (2004).

Multiple units


The first multiple units originated from the Seetalbahn, which was formed in 1922. Larger series were uncommon until after 1950: Be 4/6 (1923), De 4/4 (1927), BDe 4/4 (1952), RBe 4/4 (1959), RBDe 560 "NPZ" (1984) and RABe 520 "GTW" (2002).

The first multiple unit trainsets were bought for the introduction of the Taktfahrplan on the line Zurich–Meilen–Rapperswil in 1967: RABDe 12/12 "Mirage" (1965) and RABDe 8/16 "Chiquita" (1976). Multiple unit trainsets started to prevail in the 1990s, especially for commuter traffic: RABDe 500 "ICN" (1999), RABe 523 (et al.) "FLIRT" (2004), RABe 514 "DTZ" (2006), and RABe 503 (2008). While locomotive-hauled trains are rarely seen in commuter traffic nowadays, they are still the usual in intercity traffic. In 2011, Stadler's RABe 511 were introduced in Zurich's S-Bahn and in 2012 was introduced as a Regional Express between Geneve and Romont and Geneve and Vevey.

Some of the most popular historic multiple unit trainsets are the Roten Pfeile ("Red Arrows") (RAe 2/4) and the "Churchill-Pfeil" (RAe 4/8). In international traffic the Trans-Europ-Express (TEE) diesel trainsets appeared in 1957, but were replaced by four-systems electric trainsets RAe TEEII in 1961.

On 12 May 2010, the Swiss Federal Railways announced its largest order of rolling stock; buying 59 double-deck EMUs (Twindexx) from Bombardier, plus an option for another 100 trainsets. The new trains were originally intended to be delivered starting in 2012, but due to several delays, deliveries will begin in 2017 and end by 2020.[15][16] In addition, SBB has received and, as of 2016, is still in the process of delivering, New Pendolinos[17][18] and has ordered 29 Stadler EC250s, with an option for 92 more, expected to enter service in 2019.[19]


Distribution of Languages in Switzerland

SBB operates in all three official languages; Romansch is categorised as a national language, not an official one. (The Romansh-speaking canton of Grisons of Switzerland is served mostly by the RhB anyway.) Stations are named usually with the abbreviation corresponding to and signposted exclusively in the language of the locality: Basel SBB, Lausanne CFF, Bellinzona FFS. Trains are labelled "SBB CFF FFS".

Announcements for local trains are made in the local language, those for long-distance trains and for trains which cross the language border are in both appropriate languages. Long-distance trains at major stations also have announcements in English if there are many foreign travelers or in tourist regions (i.e. Zurich Airport, Interlaken etc.)


Train services

Re 450 between Winterthur and Zurich is one of the most important trains using in S-Bahn Zurich
SBB-CFF-FFS train arriving at Bern train station

SBB has the following services:[20]

Regional trains are sometimes operated by another Swiss railways operator (for example, the Bern S-Bahn services operated by the BLS AG.)

SBB also operates international EuroCity and EuroNight trains while within Switzerland, while Deutsche Bahn operates InterCityExpress services to, from, and (a few services) within the country serving Swiss cities such as Interlaken, Bern, Basel, Zürich, and Chur. Under the name TGV Lyria the French railway company SNCF operates TGV connections to Switzerland. Lyria SAS, a company established under French law, is a subsidiary of the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF – French National Railway Company) which owns 74%, and the Chemins de Fer Fédéraux Suisses (CFF – Swiss Federal Railways) which owns 26%. TGV Lyria serves several Swiss cities including Geneva, Lausanne, Basel, Zürich, Bern, and Interlaken. It also provides services to certain locations including Brig in the Valais especially during the winter season to provide a connection for tourists mainly visiting the south-eastern Swiss Alps. These connections are marketed under the name of TGV Lyria des Neiges.[21]

Customer services

SBB is also offering additional services for their customers.[22] For a few years, SBB has been pushing their program for new digital offers (SBB Digital) and promoting new digital service ideas for their customers. As examples SBB starts a collaboration with the new taxi service Uber,[23] with the recruiting matchmaking service jacando[24] or with their own co-working space in Zurich.[25] SBB has won the CRM awards in Switzerland for their SBB Digital activities.[26]

Tickets and pricing

Tickets for the trains are relatively expensive compared with other world rail ticket prices. There are two classes, second class and first class. Tickets are half-price for children not over 16 and holders of half fare cards. Tickets can be bought at automated ticket machines in all railway stations or at ticket offices. Tickets are routinely checked, (particularly on IC, ICN, IR, and international [TGV, ICE, etc.] trains; checks on regional trains (particularly S-bahn) are more sporadic. Some RE routes are checked, or, as the Swiss call it, "controlled" (the system of ticket-checking is called the "Kontrollsystem"), more than others.[27][28] Some ticket types and prices as of February 2016:[29][30]

There are many other tickets such as Night tickets, Youth cards, several day tickets, punch cards, and special tickets for tariff zones, but the above are the most common.

Airline codeshare

See also


  1. "SBB: The company.". SBB.
  2. Tyler Brûlé (30 March 2012). "On track to beat the Monday blues". Financial Times.
  3. "SBB calls tenders for Gotthard high speed trains". Railway Gazette International. 17 April 2012.
  4. 1 2 SBB, Facts and Figures, Traffic figures retrieved 05 September 2013
  5. 1 2 SBB, Facts and Figures, Infrastructures retrieved 05 September 2013
  6. 1 2 SBB, Facts and Figures, Punctuality and Safety retrieved 05 September 2013
  7. Murray Hughes (1 May 2005). "Bahn 2000 is working". Railway Gazette International.
  8. "Supervising Swiss tracks". Railway Gazette International. 26 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
  9. "Remarkable clocks and watches: the Swiss railway clock". Berne, Switzerland: Presence Switzerland, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  10. Köbi Gantenbein, ed. (2013). Die Bahnhofsuhr – Ein Mythos des Designs aus der Schweiz (in German). Zurich, Switzerland: Edition Hochparterre. Retrieved 2014-10-19.
  11. "Mobetime – Swiss Time Systems: References". Sumiswald, Bern, Switzerland: MOSER-BAER SA. Retrieved 2014-10-19.
  12. "Apple kopiert die berühmte SBB-Uhr". Tages-Anzeiger (in German). Zurich, Switzerland: TA Media AG. 11 November 2012. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  13. Adrian Sulc (20 September 2012). "Der Streit mit Apple schwemmt Millionen in die SBB-Kasse". Tages-Anzeiger (in German). Zurich, Switzerland: TA Media AG. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  14. "Bombardier réclame des centaines de millions aux CFF" [Bombardier claims for several hundreds of millions of francs from the SBB] (in French). 24 Heures. 22 January 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  15. "SBB Approves Pre-Series Twindexx EMU". June 11, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  16. "SBB Orders More ETR610 Tilting Trains". February 2, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  17. "ETR610 Arrives in Switzerland". June 28, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  18. "SBB's First Giruno Cars Take Shape". July 8, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  19. "SBB: Train identification". Swiss Federal Railways. 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  20. "TGV Lyria Network". Lyria SAS. 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-15.
  21. "SBB customer service". 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  22. "SBB wollen Uber-Taxis testen" (in German). Blick. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  23. "SBB werden zum Nebenjob-Vermittler" (in German). 20 Minuten. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  24. "Silicon Bahnhof - SBB Co-Working Space" (in German). Handelszeitung. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  25. "Gewinner Innovation" (in German). Swiss CRM Institute AG. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  26. SBB: Reisen ohne gültigen Fahrausweis. Haben Sie ein Billett gelöst?. Retrieved on 2013-09-07.
  27. SBB: Travelling without a valid ticket. Have you bought a ticket?. (2011-12-11). Retrieved on 2013-09-07.
  28. "SBB Timetable".
  29. "ZVV Tickets".
  30. SBB: The Half-Fare travelcard. Retrieved on 2016-02-25.
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