According to reports in the French business press, the process to sell the company, the second-largest wagon leasor in Europe, will begin by the end of the year.

Although the French government has agreed to write off a large proportion of SNCF’s debt, the national incumbent operator has been hit hard by Covid-19, which SNCF expects to reduce its operating result by €4bn in 2020.

The sale has been flagged for several years but has been brought forward by the parlous state of SNCF’s finances, which were also hit by a major strike at the start of the year. The sale will concern up to 100% of shares in Ermewa, which owns a fleet of 42,000 wagons and 60,000 tank containers, the latter through Eurotainer and Raffles Lease, along with wagon construction and maintenance workshops.

The subsidiary, which employs 750 staff, is believed to be worth €2.5bn. Turnover was €438m in 2019.

SNCF took a 10% share in Ermewa in 1992, gradually increasing its shareholding until it became sole owner in 2010.

SNCF’s president, Mr Jean-Pierre Farandou, has made it clear that other asset sales are likely, and the French government is also keen for sales to contribute to improving SNCF’s finances.