January Amtrak Report

I have read the January report and these are the items I find interesting:

1.       The report is dated February 26, 2016 but was not posted until March 4, 2016 at the earliest. The delay between its date and posting is one of the longest I have seen. 

2.       The month was the typical January, ridership falls off and expenses multiply. So for the year to date the operating ratio is now negative where it previously was in positive territory.

3.       For the first four months, Amtrak had a cash operating loss of $79.6 million plus interest expense of $20.7 million. For the year Amtrak is now predicting a total cash loss of $289.5 million (an improvement of $32.3 million of the previous forecast). The operations appropriation for FY2016 is $288.5 million with the allowance of $50 million in capital appropriations. Still this means the remaining $49 million in capital allowance cannot be spent until the potential need to cover operating losses has been eliminated.

4.       Thirteen product lines show operating surpluses for the year to date:

Acela $103.3 million

Northeast Regionals $67.4 million

Washington-Newport News $2.3 million

Maple Leaf $1.0 million

Washington-Lynchburg $1.0 million

Carolinian $0.6 million

Wolverines $0.4 million

Vermonter $0.4 million

Washington-Norfolk $0.4 million

Washington-Richmond $0.4 million

Auto Train $0.3 million

Hoosier State $0.1 million

Ethan Allen  >$0.0 million

Non-NEC Special trains covered all costs except for OPEBs, Projects and IG

5.       Cost Recovery was 98% for the first four months and Food and Beverage recovery was 56.1% during this same time.

6.       Amtrak again refused to provide an Engineer’s report (four months in a row) and for 16 months has violated federal statutes by not providing monthly financial reports.

7.       Amtrak’s president has stated that Amtrak’s cash reserves need to be watched carefully, but we do not have the slightest idea of what the cash balance is. The five year Budget and Business plan shows that at the end of FY2015 (September 30, 2015)  the  corporation had a cash balance of $576.1 million which is significantly higher than in previous years. Nor has there been a delay in payment of appropriations either by Congress or the Administration.

8.       The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report show that in January: 12 Amfleet (one of which was a repaired wreck from the Vermonter Crash), 6 Superliners, 1 Horizons, 2 Surfliners, and 1 Acela set were overhauled.

9.       Ridership continues to be badly affected by the low gasoline prices. The deficit in riders from the first four months of FY2016 was 170,328 when compared to the same period in FY2015. Total ridership so far this fiscal year is 10,049,933. Two product lines show increases of over 10% compared to the previous year: Non-NEC Special trains at 990.6% and the Palmetto at 56.9%.

10.   Authorized Capital Spending increased by $84.064 million almost all of which was in Engineering. Forecast spending has also been increased by $6.039 million. In actual capital spending it has totaled $397.467 million with the concrete shell in Gateway receiving $26.374 million and acquisitions at $16.752 million (an increase of $0.289 million). ADA Expenditures so far this year are $6.5 million.

11.    Employment decreased by 20 in January to 20,492 total.

12.   Because of the mild winter, progress has been made at both Kingston and the layover facility in Brunswick Maine. In fact the shell of that building looks like it is almost complete. In addition construction of a new station at Meriden, Connecticut has commenced.

13.   Amtrak has issued its 5 year Budget and Business Plan along with its legislative request for FY 2017. It is requesting appropriations (both capital and operating) of $1,834 million. In the business plan it shows that in FY2016 these significant projects would be worked upon: $26.9 million more for the Concrete Tunnel Box under the Hudson Yards, $35.1 million on the North Portal Bridge, $7.0 million on design of the new tunnels under the Hudson and lesser amounts for other projects for a total of $86.4 million for Gateway. In Rhode Island $2.0 million is to be spent on an interlocking at Kingston, and $17 million on the high level platforms and third set of tracks at Kingston. Amtrak also wants to spend $13.9 million on PTC Installation (Harrisburg and New Haven-Springfield), $36 million on Springfield Line double track, $42.0 million on the single level equipment being produced by CAF Industries. In 2017 Amtrak plans to spend $347 million on the North Portal Bridge, $105 million more on the Hudson Yards tunnel box; $195 million in property acquisition pursuant to Gateway; $20 million on the design of the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel Replacement Design, another $4 million to complete the Kingston project, $110 million on the Springfield Line double track and $63.8 million of the CAF low level car replacement.

14.   Two identical bipartisan bills have been filed in Congress (HR4657 and S2612) that would make it a federal crime for federal workers working in Canada who commit a United States federal offense while there. This legislation is considered crucial before the custom treaty negotiated between the United States and Canada can be addressed and ratified. HR4657 has twelve cosponsors currently and S2612 eight. Both are expected to pass with little controversy provided they do not get lost in the shuffle.

Upon ratification of the Custom Treaty, screening will take place in Montreal Central Station and continue at Vancouver, BC. The screening at Montreal will speed up the running time of the Adirondack. Also, it is expected that the Vermonter would be extended to Montreal from St. Albans, VT.

Steve Musen

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives