The state-owned rail company posted a net loss of €801 million for the year 2019, despite a strong growth in passenger numbers throughout the year.
Unsurprisingly, the main cause of the massive black hole in the company accounts is the strike action that took place in December and January.
The strike action began on December 5th in a dispute over the government's plans to reform the pension system. Photo: AFP
When the strike started on December 5th, SNCF was able to run just 10 percent of its normal services and trains remained very limited for several weeks.
As the strike went on more and more SNCF staff – who are not paid during strikes – returned to work and the company was able to offer more services.
The pre-Christmas weekend – usually a huge weekend for SNCF as French people travel to see their families for the holidays – saw them forced to cancel half of their normal services, a loss of round 850,000 tickets.
Services largely returned to normal by mid January, but even then travellers were reporting trains running half empty as people simply assumed that nothing was running and made alternative arrangements.
The strike – 27 days in total – cost SNCF €690 million in lost revenues and €614 million in operating profit, their accounts show.
In 2018 the operator had made a profit of €141 million, and bosses said that had it not been for the strike they would have been in profit again in 2019 – this time to the tune of €313 million.
The group has been working on a major plan to increase customer numbers – through schemes such as expanding the budget Ouigo network and offering more discount and loyalty cards – while cutting its traditionally high operating costs.
Revenues from SNCF Travel (notably the high-speed TGV routes and Intercité travel) rose by 4.2 percent, with traffic up 4.1 per cent. The local TER trains and suburban Transilien routes rose too, along with international rail freight traffic, while Keolis city public transport revenues jumped 10.3 percent.
SNCF bosses said that the losses from the strike will have to be partly offset by savings made elsewhere and the cancellation of some projects, but confirmed that they are on target for their long-term goal of operating without increasing debt from 2022 onwards.