Swiss rail stations will sell bitcoins at ticket machines

Trade francs for digital cash when you take the train.

JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images

Switzerland is stepping up its bitcoin fascination in a big way. Railway operator SBB (with the help of SweePay) is launching a 2-year trial for a service that lets you exchange Swiss francs for bitcoin at any of the company's ticket machines in the country. Scan a QR code with your phone and you can get between 20 to 500 francs ($20 to $505) of digital currency at any time. If you want to go shopping without using cards or physical cash, you can do it right after you leave the train station.

There are some big catches involved. You need to have a Swiss phone number to get bitcoin, so you're not completely anonymous... and of course, you're out of luck if you're not a resident. You also can't buy tickets with bitcoin at the machines, so don't think your bitcoin mining operation will pay for your next trip to Zurich.

The experiment is meant to verify whether or not there's a market for bitcoin. That may be difficult to prove. Even a relatively receptive country like Switzerland only has a limited number of physical stores that accept bitcoin, and there are only so many people willing to swap out money they already have. SBB's advantage may simply be exposure. There are many rail stations in Switzerland, and people who don't know the first thing about bitcoin may hear about it for the first time.