The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the passenger rail traffic and operations of railway operators around the world.

From Deutsche Bahn to Canadian National Railway Company, Railway Technology lists the ten biggest railway companies in 2020, based on 2019 revenues, and details the impact on their operations due to the coronavirus crisis.

The biggest railway operators: Top ten by revenue

1. Deutsche Bahn – $48.12bn

2. SNCF – $38.43bn

3. Russian Railways – $32.91bn

4. Indian Railways – $26.2bn

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By GlobalData

5. BNSF Railway Company – $22.74bn

6. Union Pacific Corporation – $21.7bn

7. East Japan Railway Company – $18.44bn

8. Central Japan Railway Company – $13.12bn

9. CSX Corporation – $11.93bn

10. Canadian National Railway Company – $11.26bn

1. Deutsche Bahn (DB) – €44.43bn ($48.12bn)

top ten rail companies in 2020
Deutsche Bahn is leading a pilot project to test the use of digital automatic coupling on freight cars under a contract from the German Government. Image courtesy of Deutsche Bahn AG.

Deutsche Bahn’s (DB) revenues remained nearly flat in 2019, increasing less than 1% year-on-year to €44.43bn ($48.12bn) from €44.06bn ($47.72bn) in 2018. It earned a net profit of €680m ($736.52m) in 2019, up by 25.46% over the previous year.

DB Regional and DB Arriva together contributed approximately one-third of the group’s revenues. DB LongDistance and DB Netze Track were the biggest drivers of growth, while revenues from DB Arriva and DB Schenker business units remained flat.

Passenger volume surged marginally to 2.6 billion in 2019 from 2.58 billion in the previous year. The company’s long-distance passenger traffic crossed the 150 million mark for the first time in 2019. The freight transport, however, declined by 9.19% to 232 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019 from 255.5Mt in 2018.

Deutsche Bahn reported €19.4bn ($22.8bn) in revenue in the first half of 2020, fell 11.8% compared with the previous year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Passenger volumes for its local, regional and long-distance trains in Germany in the first half of 2020 declined by 37% to less than 663 million passengers compared the corresponding period in 2019. However, the company’s core business in Germany has been recovering since May due to the relaxation of restrictions imposed by the government as a result of the pandemic.

Deutsche Bahn operates through a number of group companies. Some of the major business units include DB Netze Track, DB Arriva, DB Bahn Long Distance, DB Services, DB Cargo, DB Bahn Regional, DB Schenker Logistics, and DB Netze Stations. The group has approximately 338,000 employees across the world.

2. SNCF – €35.1bn ($38.43bn)

top ten rail firms
SNCF’s long-distance passenger traffic surpassed 150 million in 2019. Image courtesy of Pascal Hartmann.

Strong growth in passenger numbers in 2019 led to a 5.1% increase in SNCF’s revenues to €35.1bn ($38.43bn) when compared with €33.3bn ($36.46bn) in 2018. Approximately one-third of the revenue came from outside France.

The company undertook organisational restructuring and became a public limited company in January 2020. The new structure includes a parent company (SNCF) and five subsidiaries (SNCF Réseau, SNCF Voyageurs, Keolis, SNCF Fret, and Geodis). The French Government took over €25bn ($27.37bn) debt in SNCF Réseau in January 2020.

In April 2020, SNCF unveiled changes in its operations in response to the poor passenger and freight demand caused by the pandemic. It cut TGV and Intercités service to approximately 10% of normal levels while service for Transilien and TER, as well as the Keolis-operated transport networks, was reduced to an average between 15% and 20% of normal capacity. The rail freight service is operating at 65% of usual operations.

The company reported revenues of €14.12bn ($16.59bn) in the first half of 2020, a 20.9% decline compared to €17.85bn ($20.98bn) in the corresponding period of 2019.

French national state-owned railway company SNCF served five million rail passengers a day in France and 15 million passengers a day worldwide across all transportation modes in 2019. It has a track network of 30,000km, including 2,700km of high-speed track.

3. Russian Railways – RUR2.5tn ($31.97bn)

top ten rail companies
Russian Railways’ RZD cargo business accounted for 56.4% of the total revenue in 2019. Image courtesy of frantic00/Shutterstock.

Russian Railways earned RUR2.5tn ($31.97bn) in 2019, a 3.73% increase from RUR2.41tn ($30.82bn) in 2018. The company’s RZD cargo segment was the highest contributor, accounting for RUR1.41tn ($18.03bn) or 56.4% of the total revenue.

Russian Railways’ total revenues in the first half of 2020 fell 12.19% year-on-year to RUR1.08tn ($15.42bn). The company’s long-distance and suburban passenger transport volumes were negatively impacted by Covid-19, with more than 40% decline in passenger turnover in the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

The decrease in revenues during the period was largely driven by a 44.65% fall in the long-distance passenger transportation revenues to RUR60.04bn ($857.12m) and a 58.34% drop in earnings from the subsidiaries cargo segment to RUR36.71bn ($524.07m). RZD cargo’s revenues, on the other hand, increased by 0.91% to RUR713.51bn ($10.18bn).

The state-owned company operates freight and passenger train services and manages railway infrastructure. It accounts for 26.4% of the passenger turnover of the Russian transport system.

4. Indian Railways – Rs1.83tn ($26.2bn)

top ten rail companies in 2020
Indian Railways unveiled the new Tejas Express locomotives for push-pull operations in October 2020. Image courtesy of Rajendra B. Aklekar.

Indian Railways’ revenue fell from Rs1.9tn ($26.5bn) in 2018 to Rs1.83tn ($26.2bn) in 2019 (FY2020). The freight transport segment contributed Rs1.19tn ($17.06bn) or approximately 65% of the revenues while the passenger transport segment accounted for Rs510.77bn ($7.31bn).

Indian Railways suspended regular passenger trains since March 2020 in response to the nation-wide lock-down and has been resuming services in a phased manner based on demand. It is implementing measures to enhance revenues from the freight and passenger segments.

The state-owned railway company operated only 230 special trains, including 30 special Rajdhani and 200 Special Mail Express trains, across the country until September 2020. An additional 40 trains were approved for operations in September 2020. The passenger revenues in the current financial year are expected to reduce by Rs350bn-400bn ($4.88bn-$5.57bn) due to the pandemic.

With a rail network of more than 67,300km, Indian Railways operates one of the world’s longest railway networks by size. It comprises 17 zones, which are subdivided into 68 operating divisions.

5. BNSF Railway Company – $22.74bn

top ten railway operators based on 2019 revenues
BNSF Railway’s revenues fell by 1.1% to $22.74bn in 2019. Image courtesy of BNSF Railway Company.

BNSF Railway Company reported revenues of $22.74bn in 2019, a 1.1% decline from $22.99bn in 2018. The transportation of consumer products accounted for 35% ($7.8bn) of the total freight revenues, while industrial products, agricultural products and coal accounted for 27% ($6.06bn), 21% ($4.68bn), and 17% ($3.71bn), respectively.

The company’s earnings in the first half of 2020 declined 13.85% to $9.7bn from $11.26bn in the same period in 2019, while net income fell 12.12% to $2.9bn from $3.3bn.

BNSF witnessed a 12% reduction in unit volumes in the first half of 2020 due to Covid-19. The consumer products volumes fell 10% due to lower international intermodal and automotive volumes caused by the pandemic while the volumes of the industrial products recorded a 14% decline due to a reduction in US industrial production amid the coronavirus.

Coal volumes fell 21% in the first half of 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019, due to fall in electricity demand among other factors. The low volumes forced the company to cut its capital commitments for 2020 by 8.82% to $3.1bn.

BNSF Railway is a North American freight transportation company that operates a 32,500km-long rail network in the US and Canada. Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, the company operates an average of 1,200 trains daily and has approximately 36,000 employees.

6. Union Pacific Corporation – $21.7bn

top ten rail companies in 2020
Union Pacific witnessed a 20% decline in volumes in Q2 2020 over the same period in 2019, due to Covid-19. Image courtesy of Chuckcars.

Union Pacific’s operating revenue in 2019 stood at $21.7bn, a 4.82% decrease when compared to $22.8bn in 2018 while the operating income remained flat at $8.6bn. The company’s freight revenue slipped 5% year-on-year to $20.2bn, while car-loadings decreased by 6%.

Strong performance in industrial goods volumes was offset by a reduction in agricultural products, as well as premium and energy shipments.

Covid-19 had a negative impact on the company’s volumes in the second quarter of 2020, with a 20% decline in business volumes compared to Q2 2019. Union Pacific earned $4.2bn in operating revenues during the period, witnessing a 24% decline over the same period in 2019.

The company recorded a 24% decrease in freight revenue in Q2 2020 compared to the corresponding period in the previous year. The freight revenues from the Premium products business group dipped 33%, while revenues from Industrial and Bulk businesses decreased by 23% and 17%, respectively. The rail operator expects a 10% year-on-year decline in 2020 carload volumes due to the pandemic.

Union Pacific is a railroad franchise with 32,200 route miles in 23 US states. The company operated 7,700 locomotives and served approximately 10,000 customers in 2019.

7. East Japan Railway Company – JPY1.99tn ($18.55bn)

top ten rail companies in 2020
JR East will accelerate its digital transformation plans through measures such as ticketless and driverless operations. Image courtesy of Piti Sirisriro/Shutterstock.

East Japan Railway Company’s (JR East) operating revenues in 2019 decreased by 1.8% year-on-year to JPY2.94tn ($27.41bn). The Transportation segment was the biggest contributor, accounting for 67.68% ($18.55bn) of the revenues, followed by Retail & Services with JPY502bn ($4.67bn), Real Estate & Hotels with JPY348.52 ($3.42bn), and Others segment with JPY101.51bn ($946.31m).

JR East reported a 55.2% decline in operating revenues to JPY332.94bn ($3.17bn) in the three months ending June 2020, compared with JPY742.38bn ($7.06bn) in the same period in 2019. The decrease in revenues was mainly attributed to a reduction in revenues across the Transportation, Retail & Services, and Real Estate & Hotels business segments.

Headquartered in Tokyo, East Japan Railway Company has interests in different businesses including passenger railways, freight transport, bus transport, travel agency services, aerial cableway, financial services, telecommunications, hotel and restaurant management, and real estate.

It has a network of 1,657 stations, 12,846 rolling stock, and passenger line network of 7,401.7km. The company operates 12,296 trains a day, serving 17 million passengers daily.

8. Central Japan Railway Company – JPY1.41tn ($13.12bn)

top ten rail companies in 2020
Central Japan Railway will undertake cost-cutting steps in view of the pandemic. Image courtesy of lowpower225/Shutterstock.

Central Japan Railway Company recorded revenues of JPY1.84tn ($17.06bn) in 2019, a decrease of 1.8% compared with JPY1.87tn ($17.39bn) in 2018, primarily driven by its Transportation business segment reporting a 2.1% year-on-year drop in revenues to ¥1.41tn ($13.12bn).

Transportation revenues from the Tokaido Shinkansen fell 2.4% to JPY1.26tn ($11.72bn), while earnings from the conventional lines segment declined 0.5% to JPY104.2bn ($968.86m).

Central Japan Railway Company’s operating revenues witnessed a 72.7% decline in the quarter ending June 2020 versus the same period in 2019, while transportation revenues fell by 81.2%.

Transportation revenues from the Tokaido Shinkansen and conventional lines businesses decreased by 83.2% and 57.4% to ¥54.7bn ($508.61m) and ¥11.5bn ($106.93m), mainly due to Covid-19.

Established in 1987, Central Japan Railway Company operates Tokaido Shinkansen, the 552.6km-long transportation artery connecting the major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.

Shinkansen is a network of high-speed railway lines created more than 50 years ago. In addition, the company operates 12 conventional lines covering 1,418.2km in the Nagoya and Shizuoka areas.

9. CSX Corporation – $11.93bn

top ten rail operators
CSX operates a total network of 20,000 route miles. Image courtesy of James St. John.

American rail-based freight transportation services company CSX Corporation’s revenues in 2019 fell by 3% year-on-year to $11.93bn. Its operating income, however, grew 2% to $4.96bn.

The company’s merchandise business had the lion’s share of the total revenues, contributing 64% of the revenue, followed by the coal business with 17% and the intermodal business with 15%.

The merchandise segment revenues rose 1% from $7.49bn in 2018 to $7.58bn in 2019, while coal business revenues fell 8% to $2.07bn in 2019 from $2.24bn in the previous year. The company witnessed a 9% drop in its intermodal business revenues to $1.76bn.

As the pandemic severely impacted the economic activity, the company’s revenues declined 26% to $2.26bn in the second quarter of 2020 versus the corresponding period in 2019. The company’s operating income during the period fell 37% to $828m compared to Q2 2018.

The slump in Q2 2020 revenues was mainly driven by a 48% decline in revenues from the coal business to $287m from $557m in the same period in 2019. Revenues from the merchandise and intermodal businesses fell 22% and 18% year-on-year to $1.5bn and $359m, respectively. The company’s coal business volumes witnessed a 44% decline when compared to the second quarter of 2019.

Factors that impacted the revenues include reduced volumes, fall in fuel recovery, unfavourable mix, and decrease in coal pricing. The intermodal business volumes were hit by reduced domestic and international shipments caused by the coronavirus situation.

CSX provides rail-based transportation services, including conventional rail operations and the transportation of intermodal containers and trailers. Its network spans 20,000 route miles in 23 US states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces.

10. Canadian National Railway Company – C$14.91bn ($11.26bn)

Biggest railway companies in 2020
Canadian National Railway revised its 2020 capital expenditure to $2.13bn. Image courtesy of BalkansCat/Shutterstock.

Canadian National Railway Company (CN) reported C$14.91bn ($11.26bn) in revenues in 2019, representing a 4.12% increase over 2018. Freight revenues increased 4.8% to C$14.19bn ($10.73bn) in 2019 from C$13.54bn ($10.24bn) in the previous year.

The company recorded C$3.2bn ($2.35bn) in the second quarter of 2020, witnessing a 19% decline over the same period in 2019, attributed to lower volumes across most commodity groups due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reduced volumes were offset by a 10% increase in Canadian grain shipments, increased Canadian coal exports via west coast ports and higher freight rates.

Canadian National Railway Company cut its 2020 capital expenditure to C$2.9bn ($2.13bn) from C$3bn ($2.21bn) in view of the projected reduction in volumes. CN has 24,000 railroaders that transport goods across 20,000 route-miles spanning Canada and mid-America. It offers services ranging from rail, intermodal, and trucking to supply chain services.