SBB turns a profit for the first time since start of COVID-19 pandemic
In the first half of 2023, SBB saw a daily ridership of 1.33 million passengers, marking a return to profitability with 99 million CHF (approximately 103 million euros) in earnings for the first time since 2019, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Despite this, the company still grapples with other challenges, including debt, and some regional punctuality issues.
In March 2023, passenger numbers exceeded pre-coronavirus levels for the first time, returning faster than SBB originally estimated. Demand has since remained higher than in 2019. In the first half of 2023, 1.33 million passengers travelled daily on SBB trains, the highest number ever recorded. The positive trend in international passenger traffic continued with 5.7 million people carried, equivalent to approximately 20 percent more than the previous record in 2019.
The strongest economic recovery was recorded in SBB’s long-distance services, which came in at 13.7 million CHF, or about 14.35 million euros, making this segment profitable again for the first time since 2019. Indeed, in 2022, profits, or lack thereof, were recorded at -122.9 million CHF (about -128.8 million euros). Nevertheless, this profit remains insufficient to finance future investments. Regional traffic also performed well: profits amounted to 18.3 million CHF (about 19 million euros), up from 5.9 million CHF (about 6.2 million euros) in 2022. Additionally, the cost coverage ratio was increased to 60.1 percent up from 56.2 percent the previous year.
Stabilising their financial situation
SBB needs an annual profit of 400 to 500 million CHF (418 to 522 million euros) to stabilise its financial situation. Although it has been possible to curb the increase in net debt, SBB’s debt level of 11.4 billion CHF (11.9 billion euros) is well above the ceiling set by the Confederation, which means that the pressure to make savings and improve efficiency remains high. SBB is aiming to maintain its previously announced objective of becoming even more efficient and productive and spending around CHF 6 billion less by 2030.
To achieve this, long-distance services, which were severely affected by the pandemic, need to return to profitability in the long term, according to SBB’s financial report. This should in turn enable SBB to make the necessary investments in rolling stock and related maintenance facilities and prevent further increases in debt. Secondly, SBB expressed a desire to eliminate the structural deficit in wagonload freight traffic. Thirdly, the company indicated that the losses incurred by Infrastructure Energy must be offset and future deficits avoided.
Punctuality up, customer satisfaction down
While passenger numbers have increased, punctuality has improved across regions, though issues persist in French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino. The punctuality of passenger trains stands at 93.6 per cent indicating a 0.5 per cent growth, and connections have remained stable at 98.8 per cent despite the increase in passenger numbers. Despite these figures, customer satisfaction dropped slightly to 79.3 per cent in the first half of this year, compared to 80.7 per cent in the first half of 2022.
SBB has expressed its intention to further improve punctuality in the French-speaking areas of Switzerland by introducing a new timetable in 2025. The new timetable is intended to be more robust, by increasing journey times between stations. This is the only way to ensure that the network can be upgraded and maintained, according to the Swiss operator.