News 13 Apr 2021

COVID 19 economic impact: a difficult start to 2021 for railways

The latest data collection carried out by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) among its members confirms earlier reporting of heavy COVID-related losses for the railways over 2020 in Europe. Figures for January 2021 do not show any signs of improvement so far either for passenger or freight services.

Railways in the European Union (EU27) lost €26 billion in revenues overall (passenger services and freight services) over the whole of 2020 compared to 2019. Passenger services were more affected than freight, but the pandemic is taking its toll across the board.

In 2020, the losses ranged from -3% to -32% among freight operators, while the variation among passenger operators has been huge: -3% to -91%. The situation has been particularly hard on international long-distance passenger services (-80% to -100%), and especially on companies specialising in cross-border services (like Eurostar and Thalys).

Looking to the months ahead, early indications based on the January 2021 figures do not yet reveal any signs of improvement. The downward trend observed since October 2020 continues on the passenger side, while the upswing in freight results at the end of 2020 has gone into decline.

CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, railways have been second to none in keeping passengers and freight moving. But the pandemic took an unpreceded toll on their economic viability. As the capacity of the railways to support both recovery and sustainability is widely recognised, it is all the more urgent that political decision makers provide an adequate level of support to railway operators to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19. This is indispensable for the sector’s recovery and future growth, allowing rail to fulfil its role as the backbone of smart and sustainable mobility.