The SNCF cost 250 euros to each French person in 2020 before buying any train ticket

According to a study by the Fipeco site, the bill for the taxpayer has increased further compared to 2018.

Building and maintaining a rail network is expensive: if the French often rail against the SNCF tariffs, few know that they unknowingly pay an average of nearly 250 euros per year before buying any train ticket.

This is one of the conclusions of the latest study by the Fipeco site (led by the former magistrate of the Court of Auditors François Ecalle) on the cost of the SNCF for the French taxpayer. For the year 2020 alone, this annual cost would be 16.7 billion euros, compared to the number of French people, we arrive at the sum of approximately 249 euros.

In this study, Fipeco adds up the cost of the SNCF and the special social security scheme for railway workers for the State and the regional authorities, and therefore for taxpayers.

The taxpayer finances 40% of the operating costs of the SNCF

In concrete terms, the regions and Ile-de-France Mobilités paid 6.7 billion euros to the SNCF last year to operate local rail transport. The State subsidized the operation of the SNCF to the tune of 2.3 billion.

Through the State and regional authorities, taxpayers paid 9.0 billion euros to the SNCF, or 40% of its operating costs. To this sum must be added state and regional subsidies to finance half of the carrier’s investments, i.e. 4.5 billion euros out of the 8.9 billion recorded in the group’s financial report for 2020.

Finally, the State pays a balancing subsidy to the special pension scheme for railway workers, the budgetary cost of which is 3.2 billion euros. That is a total of 16.7 billion euros.

In the end, when he buys a ticket, the traveler only pays 20% of the actual cost of the latter. The rest is paid by tax.

This bill is salty and it increases from year to year. Indeed, the previous study by Fipeco on the issue estimated this cost in 2018 at 14.4 billion euros for the State and the regions, and therefore for taxpayers. Or 215 euros per French. And it was 13.7 billion euros in 2016 according to the 2018 report by Jean-Cyril Spinetta.

Investments for the renovation of classic lines are expensive

This addition could nevertheless have been less heavy according to François Ecalle, in question the investments which have soared in recent years, in a brutal way. But also the increase in the sums paid by the regions for the operation of the TER.

“We are now paying for the fact that for years, we have mainly favored investments on high-speed lines and we have somewhat forgotten the maintenance of urban networks in IDF and TER. Today we pays it because the maintenance of these urban networks costs much more than if we had done this work ten or fifteen years earlier”, explains the specialist to BFM Business.

The total cost of SNCF for taxpayers in 2016 and 2020 (€bn)
The total cost of SNCF for taxpayers in 2016 and 2020 (€bn) © Fipeco

And this inflation should not be stopped anytime soon. In question, the abyssal debt of the SNCF gradually taken over by the State and therefore by the taxpayer.

The State “has already taken over 25 billion euros of debt from the SNCF group on its behalf at the start of 2020 and the group’s net debt was nevertheless still 38 billion at the end of 2020. It was expected in 2018 that “a new debt takeover of 10 billion would take place in 2022, but it has been brought forward to December 31, 2021 and it is undoubtedly not the last” underlines François Ecalle.

Debt and pension plan

In addition, the fact that the new recruits of the SNCF do not benefit from the statute of the railwaymen for the retirement will relieve the finances of the operator? Not so sure according to François Escalle.

“The cessation of the recruitment of railway workers with the status gradually reduces the social contributions paid to the special pension scheme from 2020. The new agents are affiliated to the general scheme, the social contributions of which increase as a result. The cost for taxpayers, understood such as those liable for taxes and social contributions, should therefore not be significantly modified in the short term by this reform”.

Small hope nevertheless, the opening to competition on the main lines and the TER, which is finally beginning to accelerate, should mechanically generate a reduction in costs (fewer trains to buy, fewer railway workers to pay) for the SNCF and therefore for the taxpayer.

Olivier Chicheportiche BFM Business journalist

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