March Amtrak Report

These are the things I found interesting in this month's report.

1) The report is dated April 30, 2014 which is early.

2) While ridership continues to fall behind compared to last year, the corporation lost less money. Of course this is a double edge sword in that critics of Amtrak can allege that the more customers that Amtrak carries the greater the deficit.

The ridership is now running behind for the first 1/2 of the fiscal year 2014; 327,380 less than the first 1/2 of fiscal year 2013. For the year to date the total ridership is 14,764,664.

3) Amtrak continues to meet its financial goals. Operations to date at the end of March were $77.1 million better than budget . Net interest is now $48.1 million better than budget. Amtrak estimates that the cash requirement for operations for the entire year ending on September 30th will be $318.4 million, which compares favorably with the $340 million appropriation. The cost recovery of the year so far is 94% and Food and Beverages are recovering 48.3%.

The Gaap loss for the year to date is $498.7 million which is $125.2 million better than budget.

4) The number of product lines with an operating surplus actually increased from 6 to 8. The following showed a surplus after any state payments were considered: Acela $154.7 million, Northeast Regionals $86.0 million, Washington-Lynchburg $2.5 million, Washington-Newport News $1.5 million, Washington-Norfolk $1.4 million, Carolinian $1.3 million, Washington-Richmond $0.1 million, and the Vermonter made a nominal operating surplus of under $50,000. 

This means that all of the corridor services in Virginia do well.

5) Three product lines still have ridership increases of more than 10% over last year: Special NEC Trains +86.1%, Washington-Norfolk +52.8%, and the Vermonter +10.7%.

6) Long term debt decreased by $17.323 million (of which $39.092 million was in capital leases and $5 thousand was in Equipment and other debt offset by an increase of $21.776 million in the RRIF Loan,however, current maturities jumped by $39.981 million as much of the capital leases were bought out with a bridge loan), Total Debt is now $1.379 billion.

7) There was no Engineering Report for March which makes two months in a row that this report was missing.

8) In March, the Mechanical Department overhauled 14 Amfleets, 8 Superliners, 2 Horizons, and 1 Viewliner. This is a much larger number than previous months.

9) The Capital Budget increased Authorized Spending by $17.238 million. Forecast spending for the entire FY2014 increased by $51.581 million, however, while most other areas got increases, forecast spending on the 130 Viewliner order for this year shrunk again to $31.940 million.

Amtrak has spent so far this fiscal year a total of $482.677 million. Of that $59.838 million has been spent on the concrete shell under the Hudson Yards and $3.261 million on the new Viewliner Order. ADA Expenditures have edged up to $13.3 million so far.

10) Employment at Amtrak increased in March by 222 persons to 20,333.


11) Our Congressional transportation aides believe Amtrak will receive for FY2015 around the same amount it got in FY2014 ($1.390 billion). If so, Amtrak's debt maintence needs for the period will shrink to around $150 million from $192 million and some reductions in operating funds can be made allowing a slight increase in capital spending, however, when the Kingston siding and high level project is considered a "Major" project, one should not assume that many new initiatives will be commenced.

The new sprinter ACS-64 electric locomotives continue to arrive. Four are now definitely in service including one on one train to and from Boston. Seven more are being tested on the corridor prior to them entering revenue service.

However the CAF 130 Viewliner order continues to lag as evidenced by the lack of money being paid on acquisitions so far this year.

The Empire Builder continues to be slammed with lateness. Amtrak lenghtened the schedule but the train continues to arrive hours late. Not all the fault lies with BNSF, and cooperation from Canadian Pacific between Minneapolis and Chicago continues to deteriorate. While the BNSF expects to add hundreds of miles of double tracks between Minot and points west, this is a year long effort and where construction is taking place, delays may exceed the improvements of completed sections. Amtrak is expected to announce a new schedule in June restoring the old schedule since padding it seems to have not done any good.

The effort to save the Southwest Chief is getting a decent amount of support from the towns and counties along its route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. A small project around Holly, CO is expected to go ahead as a good faith effort that a tiger grant will be awarded later this year to improve the entire portion from Newton, KS to La Junta, CO. Congressional action by Senators from that region may also commit some funds to the line.

On the other hand, a number of states are looking for ways to cut their costs for state supported corridors by contracting out elements of the routes or in some cases turning them over to operators other than Amtrak. This could cause a splitting of the National System into one large operation (Amtrak) and smaller independent corridors.

Steve Musen

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