As part of our accessible travel series in Europe, here is some useful information if you are travelling in Austria and Switzerland and have, or are travelling with someone with physical or cognitive special needs.
We have always been about helping people use trains more and this means all people. The travel and tourism industry still has a way to go in offering a truly inclusive transport method. However, one issue we can help with is giving our customers useful information in advance of their booking. This post is part of a series of blogs on accessible rail travel. Others include Accessible rail travel on Eurostar, in UK, Spain and Italy and Accessible rail travel in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Accessible rail travel in Switzerland
We like SBB’s (Swiss Federal Railway’s) strapline ‘A train for everyone’ as well as the fact that they are sticking to their word. They have a specific call centre so that you can phone ahead to discuss your travel needs. The local freephone number is 0800 007 102 or, if you are calling internationally, dial +41 512257844. Not surprisingly, with Swiss efficiency, these numbers are open long hours, 06.00 and 22.30, and you just need to let them know about your journey one hour in advance to gain assistance. You can also email them on [email protected] although they recommend doing this three working days in advance.
In terms of SBB’s trains, they are striving to make impressive improvements across all stock before 2023, following guidelines of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). For example, there are low floor carriages on international and regional services for easier access, and at least two seats allocated for wheelchair users on the majority of trains. But always phone ahead to make sure that your needs are totally catered for. When travelling on SBB, you can request assistance on high-speed trains, some regional trains and at stations where platforms are fitted with a Mobilift (yellow hydraulic lift). This lift is the meeting point for assistance, and you need to be there at least 10 mins before departure. Note that, in order to be accommodated, wheelchairs should not exceed these dimensions: Width: 70cm, length: 125cm, height 137cm and 320kg in weight.
There are assisted listening systems in most stations and larger stations have metal plates embossed with Braille to help passengers locate their platform. For more information, see SBB’s website page aimed at catering for people’s special needs.
Switzerland’s tourist board website still has a way to go in terms of providing inclusive information. For example, there are details of some nature trails that are open to all on this page as well as a few excursions on cable cars and funiculars, but the content was still fairly limited at time of publication.
Accessible rail travel in Austria
There isn’t as much information available on Austria’s national rail operator’s (OBB) website as some other European train companies, but they do recognise ‘barrier-free’ travel as requirement by many. You can call their Customer Support number, +43 517175, to request assistance or you can fill in an online form.
You can request short notice help, up to three hours in advance, for assistance at the following stations:
You can get discounts for travelling with certain special needs in Austria, but only if you have Austrian health certificates. If you have these, you can gain a discount of 50%. You need to book these locally. The Austrian Tourist Board has some information on inclusive travel options, but the details are still fairly limited sadly. You can check out this website barrierefreierurlaub.at, but it is not inclusive language-wise for international visitors in that it is only in German. As we said, the travel and tourism industry still has a long way to go when it comes to welcoming all visitors to enjoy destinations and activities and we hope that this article and the others in our series is a helpful step to increasing awareness and action.