BELGIAN National Railways (SNCB) has reported a €401.9m operating loss in 2021, of which €303.8m was compensated by the federal government meaning that the final operating loss was €98.1m. SNCB’s debt at the end of 2021 was €2.31bn.

SNCB carried 171.8 million passengers in 2021, a 32.2% decrease on the 253.4 million carried in 2019 and 6.6% less than in 2020. At the same time train operation was maintained as much as possible at the explicit request of government in order to socially-distance passengers.

Turnover from ticket sales was €500m, a decrease of 37% compared with 2019. SNCB says that passenger numbers are currently around 80% of the pre-Covid levels, compared with just over 60% at the end of 2021. To combat the rise in working from home SNCB will launch flexible tickets this year to offer a more attractive option for commuters.

SNCB says it is looking to the future with confidence and while it expects 2022 to be a “difficult year” it hopes that passenger numbers will have recovered by 2024, and that leisure travel will be back to pre-Covid levels from 2023.

“We are ready to welcome more passengers,” says Ms Sophie Dutordoir, SNCB CEO. “That is also the spirit of the public service contract 2023-2032 that SNCB is currently negotiating with its supervisory authority.”

SNCB says it is planning substantial and targeted investment in new trains, transforming stations into multimodal hubs and adapting the transport offer as well as digitising real-time information and sales channels, which it says should also attract new passengers.