In an interview, SBB CFO Christoph Hammer talks about how SBB is responding to the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic and which energy-related targets this railway company is pursuing as one of the most environmentally friendly means of transportation.

Mr. Hammer, many people switched from the train to their cars during the pandemic. How do you plan to get them boarding trains again?

We’re confident that people will want to be on the go more once the pandemic’s over and to do that, they’ll start taking the train more often again because they know the enormous benefits of train travel: it’s convenient, safe and environmentally friendly. Even if we see changes in mobility in general, we’re convinced that the prospects for green mobility and SBB are good.

Christoph Hammer

Christoph Hammer, SBB CFO

How does SBB plan to absorb the pandemic’s negative effects in SBB’s consolidated results?

SBB was in good economic shape before the crisis hit and it’s true that the coronavirus punched a huge hole in the group’s finances. Our business continuity revolves around three things: We want to safeguard SBB’s mission, even in times of crisis, minimize the economic damage to the greatest extent possible and keep all our strategic options open for the future. 

Against that backdrop, we increased our line of federal credit by CHF 550 million to ensure the group’s financial solvency. The federal government and Parliament also approved financial aid for public transportation companies during the second half of 2020 to help them absorb the pandemic-related loss of earnings in the areas that are entitled to compensatory payments, namely infrastructure and regional transit as well as the freight transportation business. In the long-distance transportation and real estate sectors, SBB has to shoulder any lost income itself. We already reacted by enacting cost-cutting measures in the spring of 2020 and now vigilance is required: SBB’s financial situation will remain extremely tense, including over the next few years. Because of that, we continue to systematically pursue cost-cutting measures and are heightening cost awareness at all levels.

SBB reduced its carbon emissions by around 66,000 tons in 2019 and saved 400 GWh of electricity. What do these indicators look like for last year? As one of the most environmentally friendly means of transportation, which other energy-related targets is SBB pursuing within the scope of its railway operations?

SBB actually reduced its carbon emissions by around 70,000 tons and its energy usage by 440 GWh in the 2020 pandemic year. Our trains are already operating on 90% hydropower. By 2025, 100% of the railway system’s electricity requirements will be covered by power from renewable sources and our goal is for SBB to be climate neutral by 2030. SBB wants to save 850 gigawatt hours of electricity by 2030, which is roughly equivalent to 30 percent of the group’s overall energy requirements or the annual energy consumption of more than 200,000 households.

Which technology do you think will give innovation at SBB the biggest boost in the next few years?

There are two areas of technology where we expect to see major innovative thrusts: Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). As you know, SBB is an extremely asset-intensive company. We use IoT technologies to record the operating states of our systems in real time and at a high level of granularity. AI lets us draw intelligent conclusions for operation and maintenance, which in turn allows us to optimize maintenance requirements, resource planning and resource utilization.

I’d like to finish up with a personal question: Which train route do you enjoy most and why?

My favorite routes are along Switzerland’s lakes, like in the Lavaux region, on Lake Constance or Lake Zurich, because of their breathtaking scenery. In terms of cost efficiency, I like the route along freeway A1, where you can elegantly breeze by traffic jams.

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