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SNCB records financial losses and dwindling passenger numbers for 2021

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Illustration picture shows a passenger at the Brussels North railway station (BELGA PHOTO KRISTOF VAN ACCOM)
07:35 29/03/2022

SNCB suffered a recurring operating loss of €401.9 million in 2021, against a backdrop of a fall in the number of passengers transported, the Belgian rail operator has announced. A boost from the federal government to the tune of €303.8m, reduced the operating loss to €98.1m. The railway company had a debt of €2.3 billion at the end of 2021.

The number of passengers carried last year amounted to 171.8 million. This is 6.6% less than in 2020 and 32.2% less than in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. At present, the number of travellers represents 80% of the figure before the health crisis, against a little more than 60% at the end of 2021.

SNCB plans to make up the number of passengers to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

On a positive note, the company found that the number of leisure travellers had exceeded the records set in 2019 during several busy weekends during 2021.

To improve its passenger figures, SNCB is counting on "substantial and targeted investments in new rolling stock, the continuation of the transformation of stations into multimodal hubs, the expansion and adaptation of the transport sector, and an intensive digitisation of real-time information and sales channels."

With regard to commuters, SNCB is aware of the importance of teleworking at the moment and therefore intends to launch flexible subscriptions again this year "in order to respond to this change and to offer teleworkers an attractive tailor-made transport solution."

The company, however, is not predicting a particularly bright 2022 in financial terms. The soaring energy costs will also affect SNCB, the country's largest electricity consumer. It estimates the impact due to the increase in energy costs at €80m and the impact due to wage indexation at more than €60m.

"Like those taken in neighbouring countries, SNCB urgently needs a decision from the authorities concerning the compensation requested, as in 2020 and 2021, for the proper performance of its public service mission," the company argues.

In terms of jobs, the company says it intends to hire 1,300 people this year, 100 more than last year.

Written by Nick Amies