April Amtrak Report

I have read the April report and these are the things that I find interesting:

1) The report is dated May 29, 2015 and released on the web site the same day. Still missing are the Balance Sheet, Cash Flow and Income/Expense pages.

2) Ridership for April improved from 2014. For the first seven months of FY2015 the gain is now 326,528. For the year so far it totals 17,684,207. However with riots in Baltimore, and the crash of Train 188 shutting down Philadelphia to New York for almost a week, May is not likely to set a new ridership record.

3) Amtrak's cost recovery remains at 95%.

Amtrak is for FY2015 to date is $54.3 million worse than budget and a GAAP loss of $721.6 million. The corporation is forecasting that for the entire FY2015 a cash loss of $280.8 million (which is $4.4 million improved over last month). To put this in perspective, the operation appropriation is $250 million with the flexibility of transfering up to $50 million from the capital appropriation.

Food & Beverage recovery continues to inch upwards to 52.9%.

On a GAAP basis the first seven months was $108.8 million worse than last year.

Keep in mind that the big difference between GAAP losses and cash loss is depreciation. Every time Amtrak accepts a new piece of equipment or installs some trackage, it adds to the non-cash expense of depreciation. Therefore when Amtrak invests in these items, even though its cash expense may decrease, the GAAP loss will increase. The crowd that wants to eliminate Amtrak will continue to refer to the GAAP loss even though the cash loss is now around a third of the GAAP loss.

4) The number of product lines with an operating surplus increased to seven with Washington-Richmond bouncing back into the black:

Acela                                           $175.5 million

Northeast Regionals                   $106.6 million

Washington-Newport News             $3.3 millon

Washington-Lynchburg                   $1.7 million

Vermonter                                        $0.8 million

Washington-Norfolk                        $0.1 million

Washington-Richmond                    $0.1 million

Three other product lines would have an operating surplus if Other Post Employment Benefits(OPEBs), Projects and Amtrak Inspector General expenses were not included: Carolinian, Maple Leaf and Auto Train. Auto Train almost covered all of this last category. However traffic on this train dips somewhat during the summer, so it may not hold this position for the remainder of the year.

5) No product line had an increase in excess of 10% for the first seven months over the previous period a year earlier.

6) As noted the financial results were not published. This makes the seventh straight month without this vital information. The probable reason is that the auditors are questioning the accounting of the debt servicing again. That caused Amtrak to delay its 2013 annual report by over a year and have to restate its 2012 results. Hopefully the 2014 report will materialize soon and the financial results with have something to compare them to.

7) The Engineer's report shows that in April: 1.0 mile of Catenary was renewed, 4.51 miles of Signal Cable replaced, 3 new turnouts, and one new transformer.

8) In April, the Mechanical Department overhauled: 13 Amfleets, 9 Superliners, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner, and 1 Surfliner.

9) The capital budget authorized another slight increase of $7.545 million accross Mechanical, Transportation, Finance & Treasury and Real Estate. However forecast spending was reduced by $36.034 million with $27.204 million in Engineering, $3.645 million in Transportation and $2.697 million in Amtrak Technologies (along with much small reductions in other departments) along with one major increase of $1.4 million in Real Estate development.

Actual spending so far this fiscal year was $616.229 million. Gateway (Concrete shell over the Hudson Yards) was $25.276 million, and Acquisitions was $50.380 (increase of $0.126 million). ADA expenditures so far this year are $10.1 million which is $0.5 million less than the amount reported last month. They must have ripped up one of the new platforms.

10) Amtrak employment increased by 126 to 20,477.

11) ACS Sprinter Electric Locomotives that have been shipped out of Siemen's plant in Sacramento is now 46. SEPTA is negotiating the purchase of a few of these locomotives for its fleet.

12) The Senate appropriations THUD subcommittee may be taking up its version of its bill soon.  The House could take its version to the house floor this week. The administration is already threathening to veto the House bill if passed unchanged. 

The Senate version of the Amtrak Reauthorization was scheduled to be released on the day of the accident at Frankfurt Jct. However the accident has caused the bill to be severely altered and is now expected to make public in June.

The accident hurt Amtrak three ways. First, there was the damage to equipment and repairs to the roadbed, plus damages paid to the victims or their families. Second, there was the loss of riders and fares during the week that no trains ran between Philadelphia and New York City. This includes refunds that had to be made to customers who had paid but could not be carried. Lastly, there is the long term damage in some people who might otherwise might travel by Amtrak will not. A hearing was held on June 2 in Philadelphia by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.sIn the hearing a couple of congressmen raised the issue of requiring trains to have seat belts. Seat belts do save lives on automobiles and are standard equipment on Airlines so it might appear on the surface to make sense to require passenger trains to have them. On reflection though, there are a number of reasons why this is not a great idea. Seat belts on Airplanes are used only on takeoff and landing and when flying through turbulence. They are designed to keep passengers in their seats only at that time. If the plane crashes the seat belts are useless. In an automobile, a seat belt does two important things: It keeps the riders from going through the windshield and it distributes the blunt force into the entire seat rather than a localized portion of the spine. The result is a lot less trauma to the body, and no cuts from broken glass to the face and throat. In a train, there is no windshield for the passengers to go through, and being thrown out of a seat is an extremely rare event. The concept also breaks down when one considers riders and crew walking through the train, sleeping in a sleeping car, dining in the diner or sitting in the lounge car. Moreover, small children can be hurt more by the seat belt if wraps itself around the throat or head of the child. This is why children are now required to sit in the back seats of cars. So installation of seat and shoulder straps may be impracticable. Besides the cost of the belts and presumably straps, the seats may have to be replaced to accommodate the belts and the new seats hardened to assorb any shock of impact. The new seats may thus cause more damage to the passengers if they bounce into them when the train is moving. Last, the major injuries and deaths on Train 188 took place when the lead passenger car was ripped apart after careening into a catenary support, and by flying baggage. Seat belts would not have prevented injuries or deaths from these two causes. However, seat belts for the engineer in the Locomotive is another story and would make sense.

The accident was clearly caused by excessive speed. Of course applying emergency brakes can also cause a derailment. The question of why the excessive speed (which was caused by a speed up of the train after leaving North Philadelphia) remains open. An early form of PTC (Positive Train Control) was operational on the south bound tracks but not on the north bound. When ordered by the FRA to apply it to the Northbound tracks at Frankfurt Jct., Amtrak was able to accomplish in minutes. PTC probably could have prevented the loss of 8 lives and over 200 injuries.

On the house THUD appropriation, some remedy to the Washington Metro appropriation cutdid occur in the full committee, but the other categories were unchanged.

The Highway and Mass Transit reauthorization was extended two months. With the cheaper gasoline prices, more gas tax was collected than predicted so there was sufficient funds to cover these two additional months.

Rhode Island appears to be raising its gasoline tax a penny on July 31, 2015. The $4.4 million expected to be collected annually will go towards repairing highway bridges.

Steve Musen

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