Swiss railway ticket machines to sell Bitcoin digital currency

A pile of Bitcoin slugs sit in a box ready to be minted by Software engineer Mike Caldwell in his shop on April 26, 2013 in Sandy, Utah. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Swiss travellers will be able to swap their francs for Bitcoins at railway ticket machines from 11 November

Switzerland's national rail service (SBB) plans to start selling the digital currency Bitcoin at stations next month.

From 11 November, customers will be able to trade Swiss francs for Bitcoins using ticket machines.

They will not be able to buy tickets with the web-based currency, though.

The SBB said it had been testing customer demand for Bitcoin across the country, and had decided to launch a two-year pilot project.

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Media captionThe BBC's Rory Cellan Jones explains how Bitcoin works

To buy Bitcoins, would-be purchasers will have to give a mobile phone number for identification.

Transactions will be capped at 500 Swiss Francs (£415 / $500) each. One Bitcoin currently equals around 708.64 Swiss Francs, but it is possible to buy fractions of the currency.

Swiss financial services company SweePay is providing the conversion service.

"There have been few possibilities to obtain Bitcoins in Switzerland until now," SBB said. "With its 1,000-plus ticket machines, SBB operates a dense, around-the-clock distribution network that's suited for more than just ticket sales."

The ticket machine system may prove popular with people who have struggled to buy Bitcoins through their bank accounts, as many have reported high fees for international transactions and a delay before their funds arrive.

Bitcoin - the world's first digital currency - has drawn interest as a way to move money around rapidly, without fees or bank involvement. Transfers are handled directly between users on the internet.

Back in July, the Swiss town of Zug launched a six-month scheme letting residents pay for public services using Bitcoin. While some called the trial innovative, others raised fears that the currency was not secure.

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