August Amtrak Report

I have read the August report and these are the things that I find interesting:  August, while not as good as August of 2014,  still did reasonable well.

1. The report is dated October 8, 2015 and posted around the 9th of October. This is later than what we have come to expect. September’s report is late because as an end of year report, they try to make it as accurate as possible; but August is usually early. Still missing in action for the entire 11 months of fiscal 2015 are the current balance sheet, income and cash flow reports. Now that audited 2014 annual report has been partially posted, there is no excuse for these reports not to be included.

2. Ridership was significantly down in August. Lower gasoline prices have not help retain riders. But for the year, it is still up slightly (8,435) over last year; for the year to date, the total is 28,410,118. To set a new record, September will have to equal last year. This is iffy as gasoline prices continued to fall in the month of September.

3. Cost recovery for the year to date remained the same at 96%, however, food and beverage continues to edge upwards to 55.1%.

August was very good for cost recovery, Amtrak is now forecasting a cash operating loss of $258.4 million. While this is still slightly more than $250 million appropriation for operating expenses it is significantly better than the $307.6 cash loss that it was forecasting last month. Also Amtrak can use up to $50 million of its capital appropriations to cover excess operating losses, so none of its reserves need be touched. It is also possible that if September was a good month, that the cash operating loss could shrink further.

For the first 11 months of the fiscal year, Amtrak was $25.7 million worse than budget (an improvement of $45.9 million for the first 10 months of the fiscal year). The GAAP Loss in the year so far is $1,007.5 million which is $129.62 million worse than last year.

4. The number of product lines with operating surplus is now nine:

Acela $262.2 million

Northeast Regionals $165.8 million

Washington-Newport News $5.1 million

AUTO TRAIN( See Caveat Below) $4.5 million

Washington-Lynchburg $2.5 million

Vermonter $1.8 million

Maple Leaf $1.2 million

Washington-Richmond $0.3 million

Washington-Norfolk >$0.0

Carolinian covered all costs except OPEBs, PRJ and IG

I checked the costs reported for the year to date for AUTO TRAIN in July and the basic costs were exactly the same in August, which means that either not a single penny was spent on expenses for the AUTO TRAIN, or Amtrak made a clerical mistake.  Most likely, the latter.

5. No product line had increases in ridership in excess of 10% from 2014.

6. While the financial reports are still AWOL, Amtrak did post its audited results from FY 2014. On October 1, 2014 Amtrak had total debt of $1.27 trillion and cash on hand of $429.19 million of which $5.149 million was restricted.

7. The Engineer’s report shows that 6 turnouts were replaced and 0.66 miles of catenary renewed. The amount of total Signal Cable laid was less than that reported in July for the year to date so we can assume that they ripped some up during the month.

8. The Mechanical report shows that 18 Amfleet, 8 Superliners, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner and 1 Surfliner was overhauled in August.

9. Authorized Capital Spending was decreased by $3.646 million in August and the forecast total spending for Capital expenses for the entire fiscal year was reduced by $50.835 million.

Actual total Capital Spending for the year so far is $1,117.947 million. Gateway ( Concrete shell under the Hudson Yards) is $34,961 YTD, and Equipment Acquisitions was $78.229 million (Increase of $13.521 million over last month). ADA expenditures the year to date are $20.7 million, which is a lot more than last year but far less than the $50 million earmarked by Congress.

10. Amtrak employment decreased by 52 during August to 20,432 employees.

11. There does not seem to be any change in equipment being received, although Amtrak is seriously seeking a builder for a new series of Acela.

Congress did, but only extended the previous budget to December. No individual spending bills were passed. The senate attempted to bring up the MILCON (Military Construction/Veterans Bill) but Harry Reid and the Democrats filibustered any discussion of that spending bill and things overall remain stalemated.

The major freights and Amtrak have stated that if the deadline for Positive Train Control (December 31, 2015) is not extended all the freight lines outside of the NEC will be shut down, and while Amtrak will be in compliance for its portion of the NEC, the Keystone and New Haven to Springfield lines, everything else might have to shut down because they run on the Freights or Metro North. Consequently the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House Transportation Committee have introduced a bill to extend the deadline by three years. A similar provision was in the Drive Act passed by the Senate last summer. There has been noise from the White House, that this provision might be vetoed. On the other hand, the FRA says that unless Congress extends the deadline, they will be required to enforce the PTC requirements and issue daily fines until the PTC is installed by each carrier who is required to do so.

In the meantime over at the house, there is chaos over electing a new speaker. There is some hope that the current speaker will use this opportunity to clear much of the legislation that the extreme right has been against. Of course this requires cooperation from the Democrats who may prefer to let things remain in limbo as a campaign strategy to regain the house. Stay tune, things could get worse.

Steve Musen

State Representative from the State of Rhode Island to NARP’s Council of Representatives