Half-year results 2021: Covid continues to have an impact.

Demand slowly recovering, financial situation strained, customers more satisfied.

  • Impact of Covid-19 pandemic remains significant. In the first half of 2021, 763,000 passengers travelled each day, 41% less than in 2019. 
  • Demand is increasing again, but only slowly; the current occupancy rate is 25% below that of 2019. It will take some time before passenger numbers fully recover. Long-term, however, growth in rail will regain its momentum. 
  • Customer satisfaction has increased, operational situation has mostly been stable, and punctuality good, with regional differences. Thanks are due to the 33,500 employees.
  • Despite the coronavirus crisis and in consultation with SBB’s owner, the Confederation, SBB has fulfilled its basic mandate and is pressing ahead with expansion measures and service developments.
  • This has resulted in a half-year loss of CHF −389 million; adjusted, it is 30 million more than over the same period last year.
  • Financial situation remains very strained. Debt has increased sharply, liquidity secured until the end of 2021 thanks to federal government support.
  • The aim of the federal government and of SBB is to ensure robust financing of the company over the long term. SBB is contributing to this with cost-cutting measures and efficiency improvements. 

Many commuters continued to work from home in the first half of 2021. Leisure travel was also significantly down compared to pre-pandemic levels. The number of GA Travelcards went down: 395,000 GA Travelcards were in circulation, compared to 459,000 in June 2020 and 493,000 in June 2019. 2.7 million Half Fare Travelcards are in circulation, a slight decrease compared to June 2020 (–0.9%), but 1.9% more than in 2019. It is encouraging that sales of both travelcards are currently increasing slightly again.

Passenger train punctuality was 92.7%, despite heavy snowfall in January and severe weather in June. Lower passenger numbers relieved the rail system, resulting in greater punctuality. As normality returns and with more passengers present, the trend in punctuality is downward. Improved planning of construction and maintenance work also had a positive impact. Consignment punctuality at SBB Cargo Switzerland was 91.3%. 

The generally stable operating situation and the large amount of space available on the trains contributed to a positive travel experience. Customer satisfaction rose by 4.2 points compared to June 2020 to 77.5. This trend is also confirmed with the current increase in the occupancy rate. Customers were particularly positive about their sense of safety, about the information provided, and about using SBB Mobile. Employees working on trains, at stations, in the track area, in industrial workshops, at SBB locations, and from home all made a major contribution to customer satisfaction.

Even following the relaxation of measures in June, the protection and cleaning plan for public transport remains in place. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SBB staff have been cleaning trains and stations more frequently and more intensively. The requirement to wear masks on trains continues to be well observed, for which customers deserve our sincere thanks. Observing the protection measures means people travel safely and protect themselves, their fellow passengers, and our staff.

Increasing numbers of customers are using the digital channels on sbb.ch and SBB Mobile to buy tickets. 68.4% of tickets were sold digitally. The trend of previous years continues. The self-service rate, including ticket machines, rose to 95.0%. In SBB Travel Centres, on the other hand, customer advise is becoming increasingly important. 

Sharp rise in debt, introduction of cost-cutting measures.

Despite the coronavirus crisis and in consultation with SBB’s owner, the Confederation, SBB has fulfilled its basic mandate and is pressing ahead with expansion measures and service developments in accordance with its mandate.

The half-year loss amounts to CHF –389 million. In 2020, it was –479 million. Nevertheless, the 2021 adjusted loss is CHF 30 million higher. The reason is that 120 million in federal support have already been factored in, whereas in 2020 this was not the case until the end of the year. In its own commercial areas of Long-Distance Services, International Passenger Services and Real Estate, SBB must bear revenue losses itself. 2019 mid-year results were well in the black at CHF 279 million. 

Pandemic-related losses mean that SBB’s debt has risen sharply. The debt service coverage ratio – net interest-bearing debt in relation to EBITDA – is 17.7, well beyond the maximum limit of 6.5 demanded by the federal government.

The federal government is supporting those areas eligible for grants, namely regional services, infrastructure network and freight services for Switzerland, with additional funds in accordance with the federal act on support for public transport during the Covid-19 crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, earnings have thus been supported with a total of around CHF 400 million. For this, SBB would like to thank the Confederation and the whole of Switzerland.

The Federal Council is also submitting a dispatch to parliament regarding Covid funding for 2021. SBB welcomes this, as the crisis continues to affect SBB and public transport in Switzerland in 2021 and will do so beyond this year. SBB’s financial situation will remain very strained in the coming years.

To ensure short-term liquidity, the federal government has increased the limit for short-term loans from CHF 750 million to CHF 950 million until the end of 2021. A federal government-SBB working group is currently drawing up basic principles for ensuring sustainable, robust financing of the company with a planning horizon of 2030. SBB itself is doing everything it can to ensure a sound financial situation by implementing cost-saving measures and increasing efficiency. 

Mobility is changing, SBB seeks to win back customers.

Forms of mobility and mobility habits are changing because of the pandemic. SBB is convinced that the need for climate-friendly mobility will cause demand to rise again. SBB is recruiting additional staff, primarily locomotive crews, passenger attendants and skilled workers for its workshops. 

SBB is doing a lot to win back customers. In close cooperation with the public transport sector, SBB is testing new, more flexible forms of travelcard and launching campaigns. Leisure travel was particularly hard hit at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. It has now recovered slightly more than commuter travel has. Both leisure and commuter travel are below 2019 levels of demand.

SBB estimates that it will still take some time for passenger numbers to fully recover. Long term, however, growth in rail will regain momentum; the increasing need for climate-friendly, comfortable travel will also contribute to this.

Situation for locomotive personnel normalises at the end of the year.

Across Switzerland, 200 train drivers will complete their training within the next six months. This suggests that the situation for locomotive personnel will return to normal by the end of 2021, as previously announced. However, the situation will remain tense until the end of October in some regions, such as the Zurich area and especially in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland. Unfortunately, last-minute train cancellations in the French-Speaking regions cannot be ruled out in the coming weeks. In these cases, customers will be notified as quickly as possible via the usual channels. As announced, locomotive drivers will be trained for more routes and vehicle types in the future, which will allow for more flexibility in their assignments. SBB would like to thank its customers for their understanding and its staff for their great commitment.

Coronavirus burdens all SBB Divisions.

SBB Passenger posts a loss of CHF –389 million in the first half of 2021; this result includes CHF 75 million in additional public sector funding. In Long-Distance Services, SBB is bearing the loss of CHF –372 million itself. Demand remains well below pre-pandemic levels, with long-distance traffic down 50.3% and regional traffic down 36.6%.

The half-year results for Real Estate total CHF 127 million before compensation payments to Infrastructure and the pension fund. This is 21 million higher than in the previous year, thanks to the completion of Real Estate projects. There were fewer customers at railway stations (–6.6% in comparison with 2020, –38.8% in comparison with 2019). SBB has accommodated business tenants by granting rent concessions totalling around CHF 70 million during the pandemic.

SBB Cargo Switzerland registered a loss of CHF –8 million in the first half of the year. Earnings were supported by CHF 15 million of additional federal funding (of which CHF 12 million were an addition for the previous year). The loss is smaller than that of 2020 (CHF –27.7 million). In 2019, earnings were just about in the black at CHF 0.3 million. Results at SBB Cargo International were encouraging: the company registered a loss of CHF 0.2 million, 4.0 million better than in 2020. 

SBB Infrastructure registered a half-year loss of CHF –52.0 million, an improvement of CHF 63 million on the previous year. An additional CHF 30 million in public funds in the previous year, which were not considered until the end of the year, brought this number up. In the Energy unit, earnings were CHF 17.5 million, an increase of CHF 5.1 million above those of 2020.  

SBB Group in figures.

Consolidated income statement 1st half-year 
(in million CHF)

2021

2020

+/-

+/- in %

% relative to 2019

Operating income
Operating expenses
Operating result/EBIT
Financial result
Profit from real estate sales
Pre-tax earnings
Taxes and minority interests
Consolidated result
4 517
-4 861
-344
-48
 9
-383
-6
-389
4 241
-4 698
-457
-54
 29
-482
 4
-479
275
-162
 113
 6
-19
 100
-9
90
 6.5
-3.5
 24.7
 11.1
-67.3
 20.6
-257.2
18.8
-5.8
-7.6
-224.9
-16.3
-83.3
-232.2
 47.8
-239.5
Free cash flow after public sector financing
Net interest-bearing debt
Debt coverage ratio
-466
10 877
17.68
-664
9 554
13.39
 197
1 323
4.29
 29.7
 13.8
32.1
-
 25.6
204.3

Segment results 1st half-year
(Individual financial statements in million CHF)

2021

2020

+/-

+/- in %

% relative to 2019

SBB Passenger

Long-Distance Services
Regional Services
Other business areas

Regional Services cost-recovery ratio (%)

-389

-372
-16
-1

50.3

-419

-261
-146
-12

45.0

 30

-111
 130
 11

5.2

 7.2

-42.5
 89.3
 90.6

11.6

-412.5

-556.6
-161.0
-106.6

-18.1

Real Estate

before compensation payments
after compensation payments

 

 127
11

 

 106
-5

 

 21
16

 

 19.4
328.7

 

-28.8
-52.0

Freight Services

Cargo Switzerland
Cargo International

-3

-8
 0

-27

-28
-4

 24

 19
 4

 88.2

 70.0
 95.8

-

-
-117.1

Infrastructure

Energy
Network

-52

 18
-69

-115

 12
-128

 63

 5
 58

 54.9

 41.3
 45.6

-643.7

 18.6
-

Quantities and performances 1st half-year

2021

2020

+/-

+/- in %

% relative to 2019

SBB Passenger

Passengers per day (in millions)
Passenger kilometres (in billions)
GA Travelcards
Half Fare Travelcards

0.76
 5.15
395 498
2 697 921

0.81
 5.93
458 894
2 723 463

 

-0.05
-0.78
-63 396
-25 542

 

-5.7
-13.2
-13.8
-0.9

 

-41.0
-46.5
-19.9
1.9

Real Estate

Third-party rental income 
(in million CHF)

 289

248

 40

16.2

 8.7

Freight Services

Net tonne-kilometres (in billions)

Cargo Switzerland
Cargo International

 

 8.78

 2.66
6.49

7.40

 2.57
 5.31

 

 1.38

 0.08
1.17

 

 18.6

 3.2
22.1

 

 3.9

-13.9
9.9

Infrastructure

Train-path kilometres sold (in millions)

 

 90.8

 

85.6

 

5.2

 

 6.1

 

1.5

Further content

SBB AG

Communication

Hilfikerstrasse 1

P.O. Box 65

3000 Berne