SBB in 2021: Low demand and further losses due to Covid-19, but course set for the future.

The coronavirus pandemic also dominated the 2021 financial year: around one third fewer customers used our trains and stations to get on the move compared to before the pandemic; SBB Cargo Switzerland experienced a stagnation in volumes transported. This weak demand led to a loss of CHF 325 million. However, the loss was lower than in 2020 – thanks to cost-cutting measures, higher incomes and increased support from the Confederation. SBB intends to stabilise its long-term financial situation and save around CHF 6 billion by 2030. We are pleased to note a further increase in staff satisfaction, high customer satisfaction and good punctuality, though in the latter case there were regional and seasonal differences. Punctuality, reliability, safety: these are the guiding principles for the SBB 2030 Strategy. Given the advantages of rail for the climate, the company expects strong growth in demand over the long term and plans to meet new customer needs with increasingly more flexible offers.

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.

Link to SBB Annual Report 2021

The pandemic influences all areas of SBB’s business.

The financial situation remains very challenging. Although all divisions saw improvement over the previous year, both Long-Distance Services, which is one of SBB’s own commercial areas, and Regional Services, which is eligible for grants, once again reported a significant loss.

SBB Passenger Services made a loss of CHF -495 million in 2021 (previous year: CHF -669 million) – the division continued with cost-cutting measures and the Confederation made more funds available from the Covid-19 financial support package. The result for Regional Services (CHF -21.3 million; previous year: CHF -26.1 million) included CHF 164 million from the Covid-19 financial support package in order to mitigate loss of incomes as a result of coronavirus. In SBB’s own commercial area of Long-Distance Services, SBB bore the loss of CHF -478 million itself (previous year: CHF -627 million). The significant decline in the number of GA Travelcards also continued: 406,000 GA Travelcards were in circulation in 2021 compared to 439,000 in 2020 and 500,000 in 2019. 2.83 million Half Fare Travelcards were in circulation. This is a significant increase compared to 2020 (4.0%) and also compared to the period before Covid-19 (3.9%). 

The annual result for SBB Real Estate amounted to CHF 274 million (previous year: CHF 244 million) before compensation payments for infrastructure and contributions to the pension fund. SBB Real Estate therefore made a significant contribution to the stabilisation of the overall SBB result. Rental incomes from third parties were 11.6% higher than in the previous year (2021: CHF 604 million; 2020: CHF 541 million). Third-party revenues were CHF 1,909 million in 2021 (2020: CHF 1,805 million).

SBB Cargo Switzerland succeeded in maintaining customer turnover at a stable level despite the continued challenging context, though it still remained 10.3% lower than the 2019 pre-crisis level. The result was significantly better than in the previous year. In part, this is due to the support funds from the Confederation: CHF 11.6 million was paid out retrospectively for 2020, while CHF 29.9 million was paid out for 2021. SBB Cargo was also able to increase the operative result by CHF 20 million to CHF -33 million (2020: CHF -53 million) thanks to wide-ranging efficiency measures, while also maintaining the service despite stagnating revenues. Thanks to financial support from public funds, it was possible to produce a balanced result overall (2021: CHF 1.1 million; 2020: CHF -34.7 million).

SBB Infrastructure reported an annual result of CHF 59.5 million (2020: CHF -45.8 million). The reduced income from track charges due to Covid-19 was fully compensated through the Covid-19 financial support package. The Network unit posted a result of CHF 24.7 million (2020: CHF -63,6 million). The introduction of the new train path price system in 2021 resulted in lower yields from track charges. The train path price reduction was made possible by increases in efficiency and a higher operating contribution as per the SBB-Confederation 2021-24 Performance Agreement. 

The Energy unit produced an annual result of CHF 34.8 million (2020: CHF 17.9 million). The improvement in the result was primarily a result of higher sales of rail power. Sales increased following the reduction in the service offer due to Covid-19 in 2020 and the subsequent return to services scheduled as per the timetable. Following the planned outages at power plants for extended periods in 2020 for maintenance purposes, there was increased capacity at power plants in 2021. As a result, a larger part of the required rail power could be covered by energy production in SBB’s own power plants and electricity sourced using energy purchase rights. The positive contribution to the result will be used to reinvest in energy installations.

SBB Group in figures.

Consolidated income statement
(in million CHF)
2021 2020 +/- to 2020 +/- to 2019
Operating income 9 870 9 216 7,1% 0,1%
Operating expenses -10 094 -9 730 -3,7% -7,7%
Operating result/EBIT -225 -515 56,4% -146,1%
Financial result -98 -139 29,5% -7,8%
Profit from real estate interests 24 44 -45,0% -71,7%
Pre-tax earnings -298 -610 51,1% -161,9%
Taxes and minority interests -27 -7 -268,7% -47,1%

Consolidated result

Infrastructure Network
Regional Services
from own-account activities

-325

25
-21
-329

-617

-64
-26
-527

47,3%

...
18,4%
37,7%

-170,2%

...
-138,7%
-175,9%

Free cash flow -564 -1 500 62,4% -92,7%
Net interest-bearing debt 11 099 10 379 6,9% 24,5%
Debt coverage ratio 13,74 21,57 -36,3% 119,4%

Public-sector funding

Contributions to the rail infrastructure
Grants for regional passenger services
Grants for freight traffic

3 264

2 387
834
43

3 149

2 317
812
21

3,6%

3,0%
2,7%
109,4%

16,5%

12,8%
21,8%
...

Segment results
Individual financial statements in million CHF
2021 2020 +/- to 2020 +/- to 2019

Passenger Services

Long-Distance Services
Regional Services
Other business areas
Regional Services cost-recovery ratio (%)

-495

-478
-21
5
50,4
 

-669

-627
-26
-16
50,9
 

26,0%

23,7%
18,4%
...
-0.6%
 

-330,7%

-460,8%
-138,7%
-81,8%
-11,5%

 

Real Estate

Prior to compensation payments
After compensation payments

 

274
10

 

244
10

 

12,1%
-3,1%

 

-19,1%
-5,9%

Freight Services

Cargo Switzerland
Cargo International

17,5

1,1
19,5

-26,4

-34,7
4,6

...

...
323,6%

481,9%

...
252,9%

Infrastructure

Energy
Network

59,5

34,8
24,7

-45,8

17,9
-63,6

...

94,4%
...

164,0%

-26,2%
...

Quantities and performances 2021 2020 +/- to 2020 +/- to 2019
Number of Staff (FTE)     33 943 33 498 1,3% 4,3%

Passenger services

Passenger per day (in millions)
Passenger kilometres (in millions)
Average load factor (%)
Ticket sales (in millions)
Self-services quota (%)
of which via digital channels (%)

 

0,885
12 505
18,0
118,1
94,5
69,9

 

0,843
11 705
17,9
89,8
93,4
61,4

 

4,9%
6,8%
0,1%
31,5%
1,1%
8,5%

 

-33,1%
-36,5%
-10,9%
-4,5%
3,9%
17,1%

Real Estate

Third party rental income (in million CHF)

 

604
 

 

541
 

 

11,6%
 

 

9,6%
 

Freight Services

Volume of freight traffic per day
Net tonne-kilometres (in millions) 
Cargo Switzerland
Cargo International

 

185 000
17 174
5 256
12 659

 

185 000
15 978
5 267
11 687

 

...
7,5%
-0,2%
8,3%

 

-7.5%
4,9%
-12,1%
10,1%

Infrastructure

Train-path kilometre (in millions)
Network usage efficiency
(trains/m-t/day)

 

189,4
79,3
 

 

180,2
75,9

 

5,1%
4,5%
 

 

2,0%
1,0%
 

Further content

SBB AG

Communication

Hilfikerstrasse 1

P.O. Box 65

3000 Berne