Rural Infrastructure in Switzerland

Switzerland is among the top ten ranking countries concerning infractructure. Still, the changing appearance of public service is a popular topic for discussion among the Swiss – not least after a recent people’s vote which rejected regulations for public service.

The aim was to examine the state of public service in villages off the agglomerations. Not in the mountains – things are different there – but just a few kilometres away from the main roads and train lines.

Photographing these overlooked villages revealed some weird features. On the other hand, the photos show sleepy villages so boring that I found it hard to keep an interest in the normality. Overall, the photos paint a somewhat skewed and one-sided picture, a prejudiced idea of abandoned post offices, restaurants, schools etc.

Edit of the project on public service in rural Switzerland.

In rural areas, many small villages in Switzerland merged into larger communities sharing expenses for public service. One of the consequences are common schools for neighbouring villages – and kids travelling by bicycle or bus.

A former school in the Swiss village Gossliwil.
The schoolhouse in Gossliwil, built in 1892, was put out of service in 2007. Village kids nowadays travel to the neighbouring village Aetigkofen for primary school.
Schoolkids cycle home for lunch, Büren zum Hof, Switzerland.
Schoolkids cycle home for lunch, Büren zum Hof, Switzerland.

The village doctor is one of the iconic figures of rural infrastructure. According to a recent study, there will be a shortage of about 5’000 general practitioners in Switzerland over the next ten years.

Former village doctor's office.
Village doctor’s office in a Swiss village.

Emigration to the cities? No, Zurich and Geneva are too expensive for many. Exodus from the cities? Neither. It’s a migration from the mountains to the agglomerations. Those staying in mountain villages are the elderly. Construction in the lowland booms.

Planned construction, Arch.
Planned construction, Arch.

A Volg store is the typical – and often only – village shop in Switzerland. Volg is a retail chain with its roots in 19th-century agricultural cooperatives.

Volg is a retail chain with over 500 stores mostly in the German part of Switzerland. A Volg store selling food and household articles is often the only shop in a village. The chain selling regional products has its roots in 19th-century agricultural cooperatives.
Volg is a retail chain with over 500 stores mostly in the German part of Switzerland. A Volg store selling food and household articles is often the only shop in a village. The chain selling regional products has its roots in 19th-century agricultural cooperatives.

Restaurants are an important part of life – culinary, socially, and in villages even politically. Even if they are not part of the World Bank’s infrastructure index, the density (and quality) of restaurants are an indicator of vitality of a community.

The abandoned restaurant "Sternen" in Gossliwil, a small village in Switzerland, was put out of operation in 2014.
The abandoned restaurant “Sternen” in Gossliwil, a small village in Switzerland, was put out of operation in 2014.
Hotel de la Gare in Péry-La Heutte, Switzerland.
Hotel de la Gare in Péry-La Heutte, Switzerland.
Closed restaurant at train station in Lengnau.
Closed restaurant at train station in Lengnau.
Abandoned restaurant, Selzach.
Restaurant for sale, Selzach.

Besides delivering letters, Swiss Post also operates a dense bus network. Buses connect villages to towns with train stations. There is hardly any village that cannot be reached by train and bus.

At the bus stop in Staad, bus rides have to be telephonically arranged at least thirty minutes in advance. Buses are available on weekdays only.
At the bus stop in the small village Staad, bus rides have to be telephonically arranged at least thirty minutes in advance. Buses are available nine times per weekday.
Bus stop, Rapperswil
Bus stop, Rapperswil
The face of public service in rural Switzerland.
Bus stop in Lamboing.

Switzerland is famous for the punctuality of its trains. The timetables are a ingenious work of coordination allowing journeys with changing trains without delay. Although railway construction started relatively late in the 19th century, Switzerland’s railway network is one of the densest today. The face of train stations in rural Switzerland has changed: there is no station manager selling cardboard tickets anymore, and the wooden waiting rooms in the station buildings have been replaced by glass constructions.

Train station, Selzach
Train station, Selzach
Vending machines for tickets and snacks are standing at the train station in Selzach. Between them is the ubiquitous newspaper distribution box.The first vending machine goes back to the ancient Greeks. There were tobacco vending machines in English taverns in the 17th century. Modern vending machines for postcards, newspapers, or stamps were constructed in the 19th century.
Vending machines for tickets and snacks are standing at the train station in Selzach. Between them is the ubiquitous newspaper distribution box. The first vending machine goes back to the ancient Greeks. There were tobacco vending machines in English taverns in the 17th century. Modern vending machines for postcards, newspapers, or stamps were constructed in the 19th century.
Snack vending machine at the train station in Lengnau.
Snack vending machine at the train station in Lengnau.

Train station in Péry-La Heutte, Switzerland.
Train station in Péry-La Heutte, Switzerland.

Swiss Post is a company with 100% of its shares owned by the Swiss federation and the third largest employer in Switzerland. By provision, there has to be at least one letter box per village. In 2015, 95% of the population had access to a post office within 20 minutes. Swiss Post also operates a dense bus network connecting villages to towns and train stations.

Post office, Orvin
Post office, Orvin
There is no post office in Vauffelins. For outgoing letters, there is a post-box, and letters are home-delivered.
There is no post office in Vauffelins. For outgoing letters, there is a post-box. Letters are home-delivered.