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SBB Posts Profit: First Time in 3 Years – Trouble Ahead?

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 11 March 2024

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) records a CHF 267 million profit in 2023, a positive shift after years of losses, yet faces the uphill task of addressing its CHF 11.26 billion debt and investment needs.

SBB Posts Profit: First Time in 3 Years – Trouble Ahead?
Keystone/MARTIAL TREZZINI

For the first time in three years, SBB made a profit. Thanks to a high number of passengers, a profit of CHF 267 million was generated. However, this is not enough to significantly reduce debt.

SBB is still in the red with CHF 11.26 billion, as it announced at its annual media conference on Monday. The losses of previous years cannot be offset either. In addition, the Federal Railways are unable to finance investments in the future. This includes new rolling stock, for example.

A total of 1.32 million passengers traveled with SBB last year, compared to 1.16 million in 2022, thus returning to the level of the record year 2019. As a result, income increased.

Long-distance traffic closed with a profit of 117 million francs for the first time since 2019, following a loss of 47 million francs in 2022. Leisure travel in particular boosted the passenger business.

Corona Crisis Overcome

Together with the profits from SBB Real Estate (281 million) and Energy (78 million), passenger transport led to the annual profit.

Monika Ribar, Chair of the SBB Board of Directors, told the media in Bern that SBB had put the Covid-19 pandemic behind it in 2023 and recovered faster than expected. They are “safe, clean and punctual” – despite the accident in the Gotthard Base Tunnel on 10 August and 20,000 construction sites.

Financially healthy SBB would need an annual profit of 500 million francs. The railroads therefore want to save around six billion francs by 2030. Three major digitalisation programmes are to help with this.

The federal government is also making a contribution to overcoming the coronavirus-related losses in long-distance transport.

SBB Post Profit, But Can It Continue?

On the personnel side, around a fifth of the workforce will retire by 2030 and around 6,000 employees will need to be replaced. At the same time, SBB continues to grow. The range of services is currently 25 percent larger than at the start of Rail 2000.

With their debt and aging employee base. Growth seems somewhat stunted for the short and medium term at SBB. They must fill these new roles and battle for more effective use of their railway lines currently in service. Creating new lines is expensive, timely, and to a real extent, much of the growth has already been done. Switzerland has an enormous selection of trains, so with all this debt and lack of growth, where will SBB find the money for the next half century?

SBB Cargo Reduce Losses

The freight division SBB Cargo, which was reintegrated into SBB in June, aims to put the railroad on an economically sustainable track. Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Ribar explained that freight traffic had seen a 7.5% decline in volume in 2023 due to problems in Germany. The loss amounted to CHF 40 million in 2023, as opposed to over CHF 120 million the year prior.

©Keystone/SDA

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