French state railway SNCF sees 2-billion-euro hole, might need state aid

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PARIS (Reuters) - France’s state-owned railway company SNCF has lost about 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) in revenue so far because of the coronavirus lockdown, its chief executive said on Saturday, adding that a government bailout might be needed.

With more than 24,500 deaths during the outbreak, France has urged people to stay at home and avoid public transport.

“The virus, for the moment, means we’re missing about 2 billion euros in revenue,” SNCF Chief Executive Jean-Pierre Farandou told France Inter radio. “It wouldn’t be abnormal to think of an aid plan for the SNCF,” he added.

The railway company, which also had a prolonged period of strikes last year, said it was considering cutting jobs if business picks up too slowly.

The government has already unveiled plans to help airline Air France and carmaker Renault with state-guaranteed loans.

When the lockdown is lifted on May 11, the government said people will still have to remain within 100 km (62 miles) of their homes.

Traffic on short-distance daily-commuting trains will be down to 50 to 60% of normal capacity on May 11, though should be back to 100% by June, Farandou said. But traffic on high-speed long-distance TGV trains will continue at minimal capacity.

($1 = 0.9105 euros)

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne