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Yesterday, I was on a Swiss train that was 10 minutes late. I thought perhaps it was the end of the world ...

The Swiss railways have a reputation for being very punctual (the joke being you can set your watch by them). When planning train trips through Switzerland, you are often given very tight connections at Swiss stations, and told not to worry as the trains will be on time and you'll make them just fine.

As long as the trains are all on time, that's fine, and actually makes for quicker journeys (as there's no waiting around at intermediate stations). How punctual are Swiss trains though? Can you almost always rely on them to be on time? (Government/Regulatory figures would be preferred to anecdotes!)

  • Did you enquire why the train you were travelling on was 10 minutes late ? – Simon May 6 '13 at 10:06
  • They made several announcements about it in German. As it was my last train of the day, it didn't affect me enough to try to find someone to translate! – Gagravarr May 6 '13 at 10:07
  • I guess like anywhere Switzerland is not immune to "hiccups" – Simon May 6 '13 at 10:09
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    Generally, the trains are really quite punctual. And even if not, a lot of times they are able to make the time up while traveling. Furthermore, important connecting trains often wait for a delayed connection. If this doesn't work out, you can always take to the train conductor. In most cases they are very helpful and will provide support to find a suitable alternative train for you. If you unsure if you're will be able to get your connection, you can also always ask them for help. Then they will try to call the connecting train to wait for you. this also works for a lot of local buses. – RoflcoptrException May 6 '13 at 10:55
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    Yes, now I have to add another one. If you miss your last connection, also take to the train conductor. If it is their fault, they have to pay a taxi for you. – RoflcoptrException May 6 '13 at 12:44
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Official punctuality statistics can be found via the website of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS):

https://reporting.sbb.ch/en/quality

Percentage of passengers who arrive on time or less than three minutes late
Customer punctuality: 2015: 87.8%, 2016: 88.8%, 2017: 89.0%

The interpreration is left to you.

Punctuality statistics are often meaningless. Rail companies can too easily fine tune them. Moreover they are often meaningless for travelers. If someone tells you that 99% of the trains have less than 5 minutes delay or that 99% and precisely YOUR train is late ... For instance, if delays systematically occur in the late evening and you always travel in the late evening, "good" aggregate punctuality figures are only of little comfort. You will end up by saying that these statistics are "nonsensical" or "useless". There is some subjectivity involved.

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    The Swiss Railways' punctuality statistics actually refer to passengers, not trains. They don't tell you how many trains are late, but how many passengers get delayed. 88% percent of passengers arrive at their destination with a delay of less then 3 minutes. And 98% of all connecting passengers make their connection. So basically you have a 1/50 chance of missing a connection... – Krist van Besien May 6 '13 at 11:45
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    But also here it depends. The 1/50 chance is only if you take connections as an average passenger. If for example you're always taking the Railjet at Sunday night from Vienna to Zurich, you're almost always late. – RoflcoptrException May 6 '13 at 12:16
  • These two remarks are good and they nicely confirm and illustrate my points. – Maître Peseur May 6 '13 at 12:20
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    Re: the general usefulness of punctuality statistics, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority are actually phasing them out altogether, at least for internal use—they are much more interested in the frequency of bus and train arrivals, not how well they align to a schedule. – KRyan Dec 18 '16 at 15:50
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The normal service of trains and buses is accurate within a just a few minutes interval, and most typically it is really so.

However if something happens, much longer delays are possible, and this "something" is not extremely uncommon. The train I use for travelling to work slightly deviates from the schedule somewhat once a week and deviates dramatically (over 20 min or even no service at all) somewhat twice per year.

Most of the services operate on hourly basis, or even more frequently. If your journey is very time critical, like travelling to the airport for the expensive flight, or to your job interview, I would suggest to depart earlier, leaving the last still possible train or bus for reserve.

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