French rail operator sees 5-billion-euro loss in 2020

Hit hard by economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, French state rail operator SNCF said Wednesday it expected to end the year as much as five billion euros (US$6.0 billion) in the red. 

“We are in the red this year. We are going to end the year with a big loss,” chairman Jean-Pierre Farandou told a senate committee, saying “we shan’t be far from double” the 2.5-billion-euro loss recorded in the first six months. 

“I would not have said that before the second lockdown,” said Farandou.

SNCF would have to keep borrowing on financial markets, he continued, suggesting the company would seek to raise some 2.5 billion euros from selling off railcar hire fleet Ermewa.

In May, SNCF put its overall debt at around 35 billion euros — which the government agreed to absorb in 2018 as part of controversial planned network reforms. 

The rail operator has appealed for state aid, pointing to the assistance made available to the likes of Air France and carmaker Renault.

The French government has agreed to earmark 4.7 billion euros for SNCF as part of France’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

SNCF is by no means the only struggling European rail operator. 

In July, German rail group Deutsche Bahn said it had plunged into financial crisis with a huge first half loss of 3.7 billion euros as the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on travel.

Needing to plug a virus-exacerbated budget hole of between 11 billion and 13.5 billion euros by 2024, Deutsche Bahn is set to benefit this year from a capital injection of around six billion euros.

The coronavirus has also hit Britain’s rail network hard, forcing the government to increase financial support to a privatised sector and end a franchise system introduced in the 1990s.