EUROPEAN Railways have lost €50bn in revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies’ (CER) CER Covid Impact Tracker. This includes €27bn in 2020, and another €23bn in 2021, around 33% of total revenue compared with 2019. Passenger rail was most affected, losing more than €42bn in revenue, down 41% in 2020 and 36% in 2021, while freight lost €4bn, down 12% in 2020 and 10% in 2021.

Passenger services were particularly affected during the winter period between November 2020 and April 2021, when revenue dropped by 50% and passenger volumes dropped by 60%. Revenue improved between May 2021 and October 2021 but was still down 25% compared with 2019. Passenger volumes were also down 30%.

Early indications suggest this current winter period will be less severe, with revenue and volumes down 28% and 35% respectively in December 2021.

CER says that after collapsing in January 2021, freight volumes were steady at around 90% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 and are now nearing a return to normal. The association says revenue tended to follow volume trends throughout the pandemic.

While passenger and freight volumes have dropped, CER says the volume of train-km appears to have returned to normal. However infrastructure managers’ revenues remain in the red and consistently lag behind volumes.

CER says the figures also hide significant differences between countries, linked to insufficient compensation received for Covid-19-related reductions to track access charges. The association says that if this situation is not addressed, the lack of revenue may jeopardise infrastructure managers’ maintenance capacity as well as the investment capability of all rail stakeholders in the medium and long term.

“The Covid crisis continued to have a heavy impact on railways last year,” says CER executive director, Mr Alberto Mazzola. “In 2021, commercial revenues were down by 33% versus 2019. At the end of 2021, CER members operated the same number of trains as in 2019, but with a reduced ridership (down by 35%). This shows that CER members continued to provide services in 2020 and 2021 proving the resilience of the rail system, keeping people and goods on the move across Europe. However, the amount of rail revenue losses in EU27 reached the alarming level of €50bn. Left uncorrected, this will have a long-lasting effect.”

A detailed review of how Covid-19 affected Europe’s railways in 2021 appeared in the January issue of IRJ. Website subscribers can read the article here.