Rail continues to lose 30 million euros per week due to pandemic

The pandemic and the consequent lockdowns continue to impact heavily on rail freight. Compared to 2019 figures, revenues from rail freight have gone down from -3 per cent in December 2020 to 10 per cent in the first four months of 2021. Average weekly losses have been above 30 million euros per week.

Infrastructure managers are also seeing increased losses, up from -8 per cent in summer 2020 to -13 per cent in the 1st quarter of this year. These are the findings of the latest ‘COVID Impact Tracker’ carried out in April by the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure companies (CER) among its members.

More than 30 million per week

Investigating infrastructure losses for the first time, this latest CER survey clearly indicates that rail continues to be affected by the ongoing pandemic. Following an almost normal month of December in 2020, freight revenues plummeted to -10 per cent in January, March and April. In February, loss in revenue even reached 11 per cent. In March, average weekly losses were above 30 million euros per week (in EU 27), according to the CER figures.

Rail freight revenue losses are nevertheless 5 per cent lower than in the 1st semester of 2020, the start of the COVID crisis. This is different for the losses of infrastructure managers; the -13 per cent is roughly the same as at the start of the corona crisis. Reasons for this are multiple, but their respective weight has not yet been ascertained, said the CER.

Call for help

The CER issued a call for help based on these figures. “Targeted support to railways to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 is urgently needed and is indispensable for the sector’s recovery and future growth”, it said.

CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola: “Achieving the European Green Deal objectives will require a significant modal shift to rail. Railways have the capacity to support both recovery and Europe’s sustainable transition but we need to ensure that they emerge strong enough from this crisis to do so. Substantial compensation of current losses, but also lowering charges on operators while compensating infrastructure managers for the related lost revenues, are indispensable to help the sector get through this difficult period.”

Passenger services affected more

Although losses are significant for rail freight, they are even higher for passenger traffic. After a small relief in summer 2020, passenger losses started to worsen in October to reach -51 per cent in November 2020 (compared to the same period of 2019). Losses consistently remained at around -51 per cent during the next four months until March 2021, with weekly losses close to 600 million euros per week (in EU27), according to the CER.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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