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ON THE RAILS IN SWITZERLAND

Remember the old "If it's Tuesday it's Belgium" joke ? We found ourselves giving it a new twist while travelling on Swiss trains last month. "If it's 10.24 it's Leuk" we said, hopping from train to postal bus with hardly a second glance at the station's name. "If it's 13.16 it's Bad Ragaz" we agreed and disembarked with confidence to the smell of manure freshly spread through that scenic valley. 10.08 saw us in Lucerne. 1l.26 was Interlaken. 13.06 brought us to the top of the Jungfraujoch.

Switzerland's trains are electric, immaculately maintained and so scrupulously clean you can photograph through their spotless windows. But the name of the game here isn't cleanliness. It is punctuality. During the ten days we boarded eleven trains and about half as many busses only one was late - and that was because the conductor waited while I retrieved a friend with our luggage from another platform. Where the trains left off the postal coaches took over, with the same reliable efficiency.

Time permitting, we could also have crossed fairy-tale lakes like Geneva, Thun, Lugano and Lucerne. All of these transportation systems are synchronized, so that transfer from one vehicle to the next is simple. Train, bus or boat, they run with the precision of a Swiss watch.