December Amtrak Report

I have read the December Report and these are the items I find interesting:

1) The Report is dated February 2, 2015 and released on the website that same day. This would be slightly early for a posting. The report contains the same information as before including omission of the Balance Sheet, Cash Flow and Income/Expense pages.

2) Ridership was down in December, however, for the fiscal year to date the gain is still 138,014. For the three months so far, it is 8,026,402. Thanksgiving falling entirely in November is partially to blame, though the steep decline in gasoline pricing is a more likely culprit.

3) Amtrak's operating ratio for the first three months continues below 100%. This means that, after subtraction all the non-cash items, Amtrak covered its expenses for that period. Put another way, Amtrak achived 105% cost recovery. Still October and November are almost always good months and December has heavy travel around Christmas. January with the snow storms at the very end does not look promising.

For FY2015 Year to date; Amtrak is $16.0 million better than budget with a GAAP loss of $203.3 million. The corporation is forecasting that for the entire FY2015, a cash lost of $275.3 million, which is a $13.7 million improvement over the forecast made in the November report. Still, the appropriation for 2015 allows only $250 million for operations, so more improvement is needed if Amtrak is avoid using some of the capital appropriations to cover the balance of its loss.

Food & Beverage Recovery was 53.9%, which a little bit better than the percentage given last month.

On a GAAP basis the first three months were $35.8 million worse than the same period in the previous year.

4) The number of product lines with operating surpluses increased to 11:

Acela                                                     $83.9 million

Northeast Regionals                            $62.2 million

Washington-Newport News                   $2.0 million

Maple Leaf                                              $0.8 million

Washngton-Lynchburg                           $0.8 million

Vermonter                                               $0.7 million

Washington-Richmond                          $0.5 million

Carolinian                                                $0.4 million

Empire Service                                       $0.3 million

Washington-Norfolk                                $0.1 million

Hiawathas                                                $0.1 million

Keystone, Illini, Adirondack and Blue Water covered all of their costs except OPEBs, PRJs and their share of Amtrak IG.

5) Only two product lines had ridership increases in excess of 10% for the first three months over the previous same period a year earlier:

Carolinian                 +12.6%

Washington-Norfolk +10.6%

Despite the overwhelming crowds of riders on the inaugural run of the rerouted Vermonter, the total for the month, (let alone three months) did not come close to making this table.

6) As noted above, the financial results were not published. Hopefully they will make the January report. However we know from the FY2016 Budget Justification that Amtrak's total debt was $1,285.7 million as of October 1, 2014.

7) The Engineer's report show that in December: 3 turnouts were rebuilt and one mile of Electric Catenary renewed. However signal cable had a minus 2.2 miles of cable subtracted from the November total. (I guess that they ripped some up).

8) In December, the Mechanical Department overhauled 8 Amfleets, 8 Superliners, 1 Horizon and 1 Viewliner. No mention of Partridges in a Pear Tree.

9) The Capital Budget authorized another increase of $17.140 million in spending, Engineering was increased by $13.792 million, Mechanical by $1.750 million  and Amtrak Technologies by $1.460 million. However forecast spending was decreased by a total of $4.269 million after a shuffling of accounts. $8.705 million was reduced from Emergency Management, Tranportation was reduced by $3.951 million., NEC IID another $6.430 million and Marketing and Sales by $1.615 million. At the same time, there were increases of $5.876 million in Engineering, $5.459 million in Mechanical and $1.189 million in Amtrak Technologies.

Actual spending so far this fiscal year was $252.757 million. Gateway (the concrete shell over the Hudson Yards) was $12.703 million and Acquisitions exploded to $36.349 million (from 0.125 million) as Amtrak probably ended up paying for those completed baggage cars.

11) Amtrak employment shrunk by 114 positions to 20,229.

12) ACS64 Sprinter Electric Locomotives have arrived so frequently that they are not making news. The budget justification indicates that 27 of them were in service at the time the document was being written.

13) Lots of Amtrak news this week:

First the President unveiled his budget on the 2nd. On the surface it looks good for rail, except one the entire budget is dead on arrival and two) even if passed in its entirity would not meet what Amtrak needs. The proposal is divided into two parts: One affecting current rail service in the amount of $2.450 billion for FY 2016 and another $2.325 billion for rail service improvements in the same year. However of the current rail service $350 million is allocated solely for ADA expenditures which Amtrak would have difficulty spending. In fact it is having difficulty in just spending $50.00 million that Congress mandated in the Omnibus Spending Bill. Another $225 million is allocated to the State Supported Corridors and $850 million would go for long distance trains and the capital expenses of same. $475 million would be debt service, installation of PTC and the National Reservation System, Security and Training Centers. This leaves $550 million for the NEC plus any operating surplus from the operations on the Corridor. The surplus would be around $450 million (based on FY2014 results) less the debt service (about $37 million) on the RRIF loan for the new locomotives. The only new equipment visioned for this portion of the plan would be additional cars and locomotives for the state supported routes. For the NEC this portion only repairs the existing things. While Amtrak has not yet filed its legislative request, the amount in the 2014 operating plan indicated a need for $1.3 billion in capital for the FY 2016.

Of course, transferability of funds from one category to another may require time delaying bureaucratic approval leaving much of the funds unavailable for actual use in that year.

To help construct expansion, the President's Budget has a second pot of money totalling 2.235 billion. However $825 million goes for commuter rail PTC compliance, $250 million for local rail facilities and safety ( Grade Crossings, rail relocation, capital upgrades for  short-line railroads, training and to pay for credit risk premiums under the RRIF), and another $75 million would go for planning and workforce. So only $1.175 billion would go for actual passenge corridors. This money would be shared between State Corridors, Multi State Entities and Amtrak. Maybe 40% of the remaining $1.175 billion would end up on the NEC where the cost of the North Portal Bridge alone would $900 million.

Meanwhile the House Transportation and Infrasture released their proposal for an Amtrak Authorization. This bill would cover fiscal years 2015 to 2018. Like the administration it visions dividing the money into separate funds, a North East Rail Corridor Fund and a National System Fund. For 2016 the bill would authorize $464 million solely for the NEC and $974 million for the National System. Operating surpluses for the Acela and Northeast Regional Trains would be ploughed back into the capital after paying off the debt service on the RRIF Loan. NEC Fund would pay the legacy that pertained to the Corridor (lots of luck figuring that one out!!) as well as its share of common use facilities with the National System. The National System Fund would pay for the operating costs of the long distance trains, plus any share Amtrak had from the proportional costs of shared facilities of the State Operated Corridors. The FRA could withhold up to $2 million from each fund for oversight. Another Category would be a National Infrastructure Fund of $300 million annually. A sizeable portion of this would be reserved for NEC, but some could go to other corridors including planning and environmental studies. If a private company were to take over an Amtrak operation, then that portion of the money in the fund that would go to that train or corridor would be paid to the private concern and subtracted from Amtrak's total. This assumes that the Appropriators fully fund the Authorization levels (which has not happened yet!!). The bill authorize another loan to puchase Acela replacements, but the language requiring the elimination of "subsidies" for Food and Beverage in five years remains.

On February 17, 2015, Amtrak released its FY2016 request. They are requesting $732.2 million to cover the operating losses of the State Supported Corridors. Their general capital request $712.4 million of which $157.2 million would pay for projects on the Northeast Corridor, $94.8 million for projects on the State Supported Corridors, $291.3 million for Capital Needs of the Long Distance Trains, $5.4 million for the Infrastructure and Corporate Development Division, $160.2 million for debt service and $8.5 million for FRA holdback (oversight and NEC commission). The operating profits of the NEC ($366.8 million after debt service on the ACS64 Electric Locomotives) would mostly be plowed back into projects on the NEC. Likewise the profits of the Infrastructure and Corporate Development would be used for the capital projects of that entity. The total direct appropriation for Amtrak would $1,444.6 million. However they are also requesting a special PRIIA 212 Capital Grant to be administered by the FRA totalling $555.8 of which $464.7 million would go to the NEC, $56.5 million to State Supported Corridors and $34.5 million to Long Distrance Trains. So the grand total (not including the Amtrak IG which is funded separately) would be $2,000.4 million. If the entire amount were appropriated, considerable work would be continued on the Gateway Project. ( in Fiscal 2015 work is to be commenced on construction of the North Portal Bridge, and the concrete shell under the Hudson Yards extended under 11th Avenue). Final Design and NEPA (Environmental Permitting) of the remainder of the project would be completed. Money for the Kingston Station is allocated in both FY 2015 and FY 2016.

Steve Musen

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