• 30% more passengers
  • €800 million invested in passenger service

After two years of the pandemic, many commuters returned to train travel in 2022. SNCB closed the year with improved results and a reduction in debt, despite the sharp increase in energy costs and multiple salary indexations. In 2022, SNCB continued substantial investments in new trains and enhancing station facilities. This marks a crucial step in the ambitious growth and investment journey outlined in the 2023-2032 public service contract concluded with the Belgian government in late December.

The total number of domestic passengers in 2022 reached 227.4 million, a 32.4% increase compared to 2021, but still below the 2019 level (253.4 million). While home-to-school trips and leisure travel returned to pre-pandemic levels, the number of home-to-work subscriptions declined by 15% in late 2022 compared to 2019. Teleworking has firmly established itself in the new travel habits of many customers. That's why SNCB introduced the Flex Season Ticket in March to meet the evolving needs of its passengers. The various Flex Season Ticket variants are being launched in multiple phases in a structured manner. This transport pass allows passengers to travel to their workplace flexibly several days a week.

For leisure travel, the train has already become as popular as before the crisis in 2022. Since last summer, especially on weekends (with increases of over 130% on certain weekends) and during school holidays, the number of passengers with tickets or 10-ride cards has even exceeded 2019 figures. This trend continues in 2023. Promotions like the Duo Ticket and the Winter Promo fare have also been highly successful.

The five consecutive salary indexations during the year (additional cost of €82.4 million in 2022 compared to 2021) and the significant increase in energy costs (additional cost of €73 million for the country's largest electricity consumer) pushed the annual recurrent operating result into the red, resulting in a loss of €142.6 million. Specific compensations from the federal government, however, helped mitigate the impacts. SNCB thus achieved an operating profit of €39.6 million. The economic debt further decreased to €2.275 billion, compared to €2.314 billion at the end of 2021. The debt has returned to its pre-pandemic level and remains below the contractual ceiling of €2.565 billion.

Nearly €800 million in investments

In 2022, SNCB invested €786.7 million in service improvement, with over half (€437 million) allocated to rolling stock renovations and new, modern, and comfortable double-decker M7 cars. More than 250 of the ordered 445 cars have been delivered to date. By the end of 2022, over 80% of the fleet was equipped with the European Train Control System (ETCS) safety system.

€183 million was invested in enhancing station facilities. Nine stations became fully accessible in 2022, and over 11,400 bicycle parking spaces were created last year.

Investments in major projects continued, including the completion of Mons, Gent-Sint-Pieters, and Mechelen.

Additionally, €86 million was invested in process improvement and digitalization.

In 2022, the shareholders of Eurostar and Thalys merged the activities of the two companies into Eurostar Group, headquartered in Brussels, where SNCB holds an 18.5% stake. Eurostar Group aims to transport 30 million passengers by 2030.

To achieve these ambitions, SNCB is actively recruiting. The railway company hired 1,300 new colleagues in 2022 and aims to attract 1,600 new employees this year. SNCB had 16,638 employees at the end of 2022.

The 2023-2032 public service contract

SNCB's public service contract was approved by the Council of Ministers on December 23. This contract assigns the SNCB the mission of passenger train transport for domestic traffic for the period 2023-2032.

The public service contract is based on a robust, ambitious, and industrial ten-year plan, considering the needs and demands of passengers. It includes a performance trajectory targeting a productivity level comparable to other railway operators and a significant investment plan with guaranteed funding. SNCB commits to achieving ambitious goals, subject to annual monitoring.

The contract aims to expand the train service by 10% by 2032, increase passenger numbers by 30% during the same period, and significantly enhance the customer experience. It includes a simplified and attractive fare range, with special attention to young people, seniors, and vulnerable individuals and groups. The tariff offering aims to encourage more frequent train use and off-peak hour utilization.

SNCB also invests in improving passenger experience by doubling the current number of autonomously accessible stations (to reach 176 stations by 2032, covering nearly 80% of passengers) and providing an additional 40% of bicycle parking spaces.

SNCB aims to renew 50% of its fleet by 2032 by investing in modern and comfortable rolling stock, achieving 100% air-conditioned trains, introducing a multifunctional car in each train, and increasing bicycle spaces in trains by 50%. Moreover, SNCB aims to be one of the first railway operators to equip its entire fleet with the ETCS safety system by 2025.

The company will invest a total of over €9.2 billion (euro 2023) during this 10-year period.

SNCB's sustainability strategy is integrated into its activities and includes ambitious goals for the next 10 years in terms of energy and water savings, waste sorting, responsible procurement policy, diversity and inclusion, as well as autonomous accessibility of trains and stations.

Simultaneously, SNCB commits to achieving annual productivity gains averaging 4.5% to stay competitive with comparable railway companies. As a result, economic debt is expected to decrease to €1.6 billion by 2032.