December Amtrak Report

Commuters and travelers wait for their train in Providence

Commuters and travelers wait for their train in Providence

I have read the December report and these are the items I found interesting:

1) The report is dated January 31, 2014 and posted on the web site either that day or February 1, 2014. This is a little early.

2) December was a very good month. Not only did ridership exceed December 2012 but the operating ratio for the month was 105%. For the first three months the operating ratio was 102%. Since 100% is a break even event, Amtrak is generating more cash than it spends directly on operations.

3) Amtrak operations for the first three months of FY 2014 was $55.2 million, better than budget. In figuring only cash items, Amtrak is now forecasting for the entire year that it will need direct federal appropriations for operations of $329.8 million. The appropriations passed by Congress was $340 million with up to $40.0 million of the capital appropriation available if needed. Amtrak still has to get through the winter and January saw a number of cancellations. Amtrak is likely to see an increase in the annual operational cash deficit forecast in the January report.

On a purely GAAP basis Amtrak is running $112.5 million better than last year.

4) Amtrak also saw a small improvement in the cost recovery of the Food & Beverage operation from 49.6% to 50.2%.

Wickford Junction with wind turbine

Wickford Junction with wind turbine

5) Twelve Product lines are showing an operating surplus for the first quarter:  Acela $88.5 million, Northeast Regionals $54.9 million, Washington-Newport News $2.4 million, Washington-Lynchburg $1.6 million, Washington-Norfolk 1.0 million, Vermonter $0.7 million, Carolinian $0.5 million, Illinois Zephyr $0.4 million, Keystones $0.2 million, NEC Specials $0.1 million, Chicago-St. Louis $0.1 million, and the Hiawathas less than $50,000. Two more product lines, the San Joaquins and Kansas City-St. Louis covered everything but the OPEBs (other post employment Benefits) and their share of the Amtrak IG.

6) Amtrak employment shrunk by 18 to 20,160 during December, 2013.

7) Amtrak appears to have gotten almost $100 million more in Federal and State Capital payments (mostly from the States), as well as borrowing another $3 million in the RRIF (Railroad Infrasture Financing) Loan that is being used to finance the purchase of the electric locomotives. As result of the good operating ratio Amtrak's cash on hand remained very high at $445.2 million at the end of December 2013. Restricted cash fell again to $5.921 million.

8) Net interest paid in the first quarter was $18.4 million better than budget. Last year when the Secretary of Transportation was paying off the buyouts on some capital leases, net interest was even better, Amtrak's interest expense is $1.1 million worse than the same period last year.

The first of potential buyouts of capital leases was available on January 2, 2014. It will be interesting to see if Amtrak used any of its cash on hand to buy out anyone of those leases. If it does, interest expense will decrease significantly for the remainder of the fiscal year.


9) In December, long term debt decreased by $10.42 million of which $15.442 million was a reduction in the Penn Station Mortgage, $0.020 million was in Capital Leases and $0.923 million a decrease in Equipment and other debt offset by an increase of $5.883 million in the RRIF Loan.

Current Maturies also decreased by $1.099 million. Total Debt is now $1.374 billion. 

10) Authorized Capital Spending increased by $4.506 million most of which was an increase in Marketing and Sales. Forecast spending increased by $19.332 million most of which was in the Mechanical Department of $15.580 million.

The FY2014 Capital Appropriation for Amtrak was $1,050 million of which $40 million could be used for operations if needed, up to $199 million on debt service and at least $50 million was reserved for ADA compliance. Amtrak currently expects to spend on capital improvements (not to include debt service) $1,321.5 million. Amtrak has various outside sources of money for the Gateway Program (the concrete shell under the Hudson Yards), the High Speed Improvements in New York and New Jersey, plus capital funds from various states for projects in their states. In addition, timing of specific projects and cost underuns occur so as to result in Amtrak usually underspending its budget by up to a $100 million every year. It is my belief that the current capital program will not have to be adjusted much as a result of the appropriation.

Actual spending on Capital projects so far this year is $228.058 million, of which $33.154 million has been spent on the Gateway project and $1.399 million on Acquisitions. ADA expenditures so far this year have been $7.6 million.

11) Ridership was 7,888,388 so far this year; which is 127,904 more than last year, January will be an interesting test of whether or not another record will be set. Five product lines are showing a 10% or more improvement over FY 2013: Special NEC Trains 181.3%; Washington-Norfolk 156.0%; Acela 16.8%, Vermonter 14.5% and Empire Corridor 13.4%.

12) Engineering replaced 1 turnout and renewed 1.3 miles of catenary in December.


13) Mechanical overhauled 8 Amfleet, 5 Superliners, 1 Heritage Diner, and 1 Viewliner.

14) The Approrpriations Bill passed without serious objections that more money was appropriated for Amtrak than in FY2013. Amtrak should reduce a little bit of its backlog of "Small Projects" such as turnouts, catenary renewals etc. Serious work will be done to clean up the contaminated soil around the Willington Locomotive Repair Facility and some state projects will be advanced. Whether or not a major initiative (on the order of $100 million or more) will be commenced is an open question. Most likely we will not know until the FY2015 budget gets passed by Congress.

In the meantime, the Canadian VIA system is rapidly shrinking almost to the tipping point where no political support remains for it on the National Level. 


Rhode Island Representative to the National Association of Railroad Passengers' Council of Representatives