SBB train passengers

Low Demand for SBB’s Trains

SBB announced the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the 2021 financial year: around one third fewer customers used SBB`s trains and stations to get on the move compared to before the pandemic; SBB Cargo Switzerland experienced a stagnation in volumes transported.

SBB looks back on another extremely challenging year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic. Demand recovered from the summer onwards but fell again towards the end of the year during the fifth wave of the pandemic. A total of 885,000 passengers travelled with us each day in 2021; this is 4.9% more than in 2020 but 33.1% less than the year before the pandemic in 2019. Leisure travel has experienced a stronger recovery than business travel. Many commuters continued to work from home in 2021. For international passenger services, the occupancy rate was around a third lower than in 2019, though it varied significantly depending on the restrictions in force in individual countries. During the summer of 2021, SBB even reached 2019 levels for some destinations. Although the number of customers in stations increased by 3.6% from 2020, this figure remained 30.5% lower than the 2019 value. Transport volumes at SBB Cargo Switzerland stagnated at a low level (2021: 5,256 million net tonne-kilometres; -0.2% compared to the previous year) and were considerably lower than in 2019 (5,979 million net tonne-kilometres).

A very difficult financial situation – stabilisation package prepared

Coronavirus is causing great financial strain for SBB. The consolidated result closed at a loss of CHF -325 million (previous year: CHF -617 million). This includes the CHF 330 million in financial support from public funds (previous year: CHF 277 million). Thanks to this support – but also thanks to higher incomes and cost-cutting measures made by SBB – the 2021 loss was 47.3% lower than in 2020. Net interest-bearing debt increased by CHF 720 million to more than CHF 11 billion. The debt coverage ratio – the ratio of net interest-bearing debt to EBITDA – is 13.7, which lies far above the upper limit of 6.5 required by the Confederation. According to current estimates, the coronavirus crisis will cost SBB around CHF 3 billion in total.

To ensure SBB’s finances are in a sustainable position by 2030, SBB has prepared a stabilisation package together with the Confederation. SBB will implement planned cost-cutting measures of around CHF 6 billion by 2030, accompanied by further annual saving and/or yield optimisation measures of CHF 80 million from 2024 to 2030 as expected by the Confederation. This remains a challenge.

Happy staff create happy customers

Unlike in 2020 and despite the coronavirus crisis, SBB did not run a reduced timetable in 2021; only during the Omicron wave at the start of 2022 was SBB forced to do so to a limited extent. In 2021, the company implemented further measures to increase punctuality, reliability, and safety. Good planning of construction sites and fewer disruptions to rail infrastructure and trains resulted in the second-best punctuality figures that SBB has seen in its history, though there were seasonal and regional variations.

The operational problems in French-speaking Switzerland were also reflected in customer satisfaction, which was above average as in the previous year, but also undermined by poor scores for the second half of the year in French-speaking Switzerland. The lowest point was the total suspension of service on the main route between Lausanne and Geneva lasting several days in November because of track subsidence in Tolochenaz. To ensure that punctuality remains high, the timetable requires more reserves in future, especially in French-speaking Switzerland.

Staff who work on trains, on the track, at stations, in workshops and at home all make an important contribution to the high punctuality and satisfaction scores. We are pleased to see that our staff themselves are also satisfied in most cases – the 2021 staff survey returned better results in almost all areas when compared to the previous year. The difficulties posed by the shortage of locomotive drivers have also finally been overcome, with the number of drivers reaching slightly above the required level during the first half of 2022. This means that SBB can train its locomotive crew for more routes and vehicle types, enabling a more flexible use of resources.

Rail is a very safe means of transport. However, particular attention is paid to occupational and shunting accidents, which increased slightly in 2021 despite a downward trend over the past 20 years.

Working and travelling on public transport is safe thanks to the protection plan

Wearing a mask at work, following the Covid-19 protection plans and working from home continued to play a major role in daily working life for SBB staff in 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SBB staff have been cleaning trains and stations more frequently and more intensively. Observing the Covid-19 protection measures means people travel safely and protect themselves, their fellow passengers, and our staff. The requirement to wear a mask on public transport is still in force until the end of March and continues to be well adhered to. SBB thanks its customers for their cooperation.

Rail travel is good for the climate and has a future

SBB looks forward to welcoming its customers back. Travelling in a climate-friendly way and avoiding traffic will become increasingly important in future. In the long term, rail is set to show strong growth once again. There will be greater variation in travel behaviour, which will be less predictable; more people will travel for leisure and commute less. SBB is responding to this development with its 2030 Strategy, which was presented at the end of the year. As a first step, SBB will stabilise its operations and the timetable by 2025. By 2030, travelling by rail is set to become even easier and more comfortable: SBB will gradually design its service offer with greater flexibility on the basis of the tried-and-tested clock-face schedule. This will increase the attractiveness of rail travel over individual motorised transport.

In line with the 2030 Strategy, SBB is focusing on providing a punctual, reliable and safe railway in 2022. SBB intends to win back customers who left us because of the pandemic. The key points of this approach are: testing new travelcard formats, attractive Supersaver Class Upgrades, improved customer information during service disruptions, more connections to the mountains and abroad, more bicycle spaces and developing stations as attractive transport interchanges. SBB is driving forward digitalisation projects, for example, in integrated railway production. These projects help to make rail more efficient and robust.

Together with the Confederation, SBB is discussing solutions that will enable a modal shift from road to rail in freight services. As the most climate-friendly means of mass transport, SBB makes a significant contribution to achieving the Confederation’s climate goals.

Ultimately, SBB wants to contribute to developing mobility in Switzerland as a whole and promote the combination of rail with other means of transport.

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