After a good start to 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit SBB very hard. SBB revealed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and what has changed today.
An average of 843,000 passengers were transported per day—more than a third less than in the previous year (1.32 million passengers per day). Passenger kilometres fell by 40.6%—in long-distance traffic, they dropped by 43.7%, and in regional traffic by 32.4%. The sharp drop was due the measures imposed by authorities to combat the pandemic: many commuters worked from home, while leisure passengers from Switzerland and abroad also travelled significantly less because of restrictions.
In international passenger traffic, demand fell even more sharply, i.e. by 51.2% in passenger kilometres compared to the previous year, due to the travel restrictions and reductions in services.
Fewer passengers and the imposed closure of shops led to a sharp decline in customers at stations—a third less than in the previous year overall.
In 2020, the same number of passengers held a Half Fare Travelcard as in the previous year, i.e. 2.72 million in total. By contrast, 439,000 people still held a GA Travelcard, 12.2% fewer than in the previous year (500,000). Significantly more than half of all tickets were purchased via the SBB.ch and SBB Mobile digital sales channels (61.4%; previous year: 52.8%). The marked increase in comparison to previous years therefore continued in the pandemic year.
Very tense economic situation
The decline in demand has had severe financial consequences; compared to the previous year, there were lower passenger revenues (−28.9%), lower third-party revenues in stations (−26.8%), lower train path revenues for infrastructure (−12.1%) and less freight transport (−2.4% in freight tonne kilometres). During the lockdown, SBB waived or reduced rents and, together with the public transport industry, implemented extensive goodwill measures for travelcard customers.
All this is reflected in the consolidated result of CHF -617 million (previous year: CHF +463 million). It is the biggest loss since SBB was extracted from federal administration and became a public limited company. Despite the very tense financial situation, SBB wants to keep ticket prices stable and thus ensure the attractiveness of public transport.
he interest-bearing net indebtedness increased by CHF 1.5 billion. Due to the low operating cash flow (EBITDA) and the increased debt, SBB’s debt coverage ratio is 21.6 and thus clearly above the maximum limit of 6.5 required by the Confederation.
Cost-cutting measures and support from the Confederation and the Cantons
In spring 2020, SBB reacted to the revenue shortfalls with cost-cutting measures, such as a hiring freeze or similar restrictions in administration, the reduction of flexitime and holiday credit, and the postponement or cancellation of projects and investments. These measures saved hundreds of millions of Swiss francs. The operation of rail services and safety are not affected by the cost-cutting measures.
To safeguard solvency, the Confederation has increased SBB’s credit limit by CHF 550 million. In addition, in the second half of 2020, the Confederation and Parliament approved support for public transport in order to cushion the coronavirus-related revenue losses for transport companies in the areas of infrastructure and regional traffic eligible for compensation, as well as in freight transport. In its own commercial areas of long-distance traffic and real estate, SBB has to bear revenue losses itself.
Customers are satisfied with SBB quality
With the provisionally reduced service offer, SBB implemented four timetable changes last year, a feat of strength by its employees. SBB continued to work intensively on the quality of its services under difficult conditions. The opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel concluded the “New Rail Link through the Alps” (NRLA)—a historic moment for Switzerland and for Europe.
Safety, punctuality, customer satisfaction, and image (2020: 66.6 points, 2019: 64.7 points) have also improved. SBB recorded fewer occupational, shunting and train accidents in 2020 than in the previous year. Customer punctuality was 93.4% (previous year: 90.6%) and train punctuality 95.7% (previous year: 94.2%). Cargo consignment punctuality also improved compared to the previous year (93.5%, previous year: 91.9%). In addition to lower demand, improved construction-site planning had a positive effect on punctuality.
At 76.3 points, overall customer satisfaction is higher than in the previous year (+0.5 points). Customer satisfaction has improved in passenger traffic (+1.5 points), as well as in stations (+1.0 points). The satisfaction of freight traffic customers decreased (-3.4 points).
Staff satisfaction (2020: 70, 2019: 66) and staff motivation (2020: 77, 2019: 73) for SBB employees have increased compared to the previous year, as has the number of full-time employees (2020: 33,498, 2019: 32,535).
The shortage of skilled workers increased in 2020 because of coronavirus. Train connections were cancelled due to a shortage of locomotive staff, for which SBB apologises. From mid-2021, the situation will ease, as training classes are currently full. Locomotive drivers will be trained for more routes and more vehicle types in future, which will increase flexibility.
SBB continues to focus on quality while the financial situation remains very tense
In 2021, SBB will continue to focus on quality for its customers. Timetable stability and better construction-site planning remain key. SBB is investing in its core business, in particular in new rolling stock.
SBB’s financial situation will remain constricted in the coming years. SBB will consistently continue to implement cost-cutting measures and raise cost awareness at all levels.
Demand will pick up again after the crisis; SBB is preparing for it. Mobility remains a basic requirement for professional and social life, and climate-friendly railway remains a popular means of transport. SBB will therefore continue to strengthen its environmental advantage; with its goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2030, and with the modal shift from road to rail, SBB is making a significant contribution to achieving the Confederation’s climate targets.
Coronavirus a burden on all SBB Divisions
The annual result for Passenger was CHF -661 million (previous year: CHF +215 million). Both regional and long-distance traffic recorded negative results (regional: CHF -26.1 million, long-distance: CHF -626.7 million). In ticket sales, the self-service rate increased from 90.6% to 93.4%. This includes digital channels (SBB.ch and SBB Mobile), automatic travelcard renewals and purchases at ticket machines and via partner sales organisations.
The result from Real Estate before compensation payments to infrastructure (CHF 150 million) and the payment for the pension fund (CHF 84 million) was CHF 244 million (previous year: CHF 339 million). Third-party rental income amounted to CHF 541 million (previous year: CHF 552 million).
The result for SBB Cargo Switzerland was CHF -34.7 million (previous year: CHF 0 million). SBB Cargo International Ltd closed with CHF 4.6 million (previous year: CHF 5.5 million). Net tonne kilometres in freight services decreased by 2.4% (15,978 million, previous year: 16,377 million net tonne kilometres). The two companies developed in opposite ways: while SBB Cargo Switzerland recorded 11.9% fewer net tonne kilometres, SBB Cargo International Ltd showed a slight increase of 1.6%.
SBB Infrastructure posted an annual result of CHF -45.8 million (previous year: CHF +22.5 million). Due to the slump in train path revenues and productivity losses as a result of coronavirus, the network area recorded a significantly negative result of CHF -63.6 million (previous year: CHF -24.7 million). The energy area also posted a lower result (CHF 17.9 million) than in the previous year (CHF 47.1 million); this amount is reinvested in energy facilities.