April Amtrak Report

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

1.       The report is dated May 24, 2016 and posted the same day. The report and posting is very early.

2.       After a brief uptick in March, April continued the decline in year to year ridership figures per month. This despite a gradual rise in gasoline prices during the month. However the month did not contain Easter like it normally does.

3.       For the first seven months of the fiscal year, Amtrak had a cash operating loss of $ 146.5 million reflecting the $18.1 million cash loss in April. For the entire year, Amtrak is now predicting a total cash loss of $280.3 million which is a worsening of $3.50 million from the previous forecast. Still this is less than the appropriation of $288.5 million that was passed by Congress. If the further increase in gasoline that is occurring during May drives ridership higher, Amtrak should be able to have some of the operating appropriation left over on October 1, 2016.

4.       The same twelve product lines that show an operating surplus continue to do so:

Acela $180.2 million

Northeast Regionals $110.8 million

Washington-Newport News $3.8 million

Washington-Lynchburg $1.8 million

Carolinian $1.8 million

Auto Train $1.3 million

Maple Leaf $1.2 million

Vermonter $0.7 million

Washington-Richmond $0.6 million

Ethan Allen $0.5 million

Washington-Norfolk $0.4 million

Hoosier State$0.2 million

5.       Cost Recovery was 98% and Food & Beverage was 56%.

6.       Amtrak again decided to violate the Federal Statute and ILLEGALLY and UNJUSTIFIABLE REFUSES TO PROVIDE THE FINANCIAL REPORTS SUCH AS PROFIT AND LOSS, BALANCE SHEET and CASH FLOWS. THIS HAS GONE ON FOR NINETEEN MONTHS. It has also been SEVEN MONTHS since the CHIEF ENGINEER has submitted a report, and either he is irreparably lazy, and has not accomplished anything or Amtrak Management has something to hide.  I had hoped that when I spoke to an Amtrak Official that this would be corrected, but no, it still is missing.

7.       Therefore we really do not know what the cash situation at Amtrak is, however, Boardman recently stated to the employees that additional cash savings were needed to avoid a crisis.

8.       The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report shows that during April: 12 Amfleet, 11 Superliners, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner, 1 Surfline, and 1 Acela Train Set were overhauled.

9.       Ridership was down 81,379 in April 2016 from April 2015 doubling the deficit for the year to 152,792. Total ridership for the first seven months of FY2016 is 17,531,415. Things would be even worse if three product lines did not have increases of 10% or more for the fiscal year so far: Palmetto 77.5%, Non-NEC Special Trains 24.2%, and California Zephyr with 12.4%. The Palmetto is benefiting from a merger with a previously independent Northeast Regional Train.

10.   Authorized Capital Spending decreased again by $4.553 million to $1.911 billion. Two departments had huge decreases, Engineering ($4.206 million) and Mechanical ($13.600 million). Some other departments had increases: Marketing & Sales ($13.6 million), Enviroment ($1.963 million), and Transportation ($1.950 million). Forecast Spending for the entire fiscal year is $45.974 million less.

In actual capital spending, the year so far is $737.256 million. The Gateway projects has expended $42.358 million, and Acquisitions have increased by $0.587 million to $18.041 million. ADA Expenditures now total $11.9 million for the fiscal year to date.

11.   Employment was down by 64 individuals to 20,680 in April.

12.   The full Senate has appropriated $1,430 for Amtrak. The CRISI Money (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements) was also kept at the same amount except only ½ rather than all of the money is limited to PTC and other safety improvements. That this amendment by Sen. Booker passed is very helpful since Congress has a tendency to keep the same restrictive language from year to year, so that even if Congress were to fund this item more next year, without the change in language, very little of it would benefit Amtrak.

The House has also passed a Transportation Appropriation. The THUD bill gives the same amount of money for Amtrak as the Senate, but has about $75 million more applied solely to the Northeast Rail Corridor. Surprisingly no anti Amtrak amendments were offered this year in either the Senate or the House. The House only provides $25 million for Crisi, increases the State of Good Repair fund by $5 million and eliminates all restoration money.

Both measures now go to Conference and the report then has be approved by a majority in both houses before going to the President for his to act upon. The THUD measures have been combined with Military Construction/Veteran Affairs (MILCON) appropriation and emergency money to fight the ZIKA virus. The later could be a big sticking point in conference.

13.   Construction at Kingston Railroad Station continues at a good pace. This small project is currently the largest capacity improvement being constructed on the Amtrak system.  Part of the high level platforms on both sides of the tracks are now being used by the passengers and the original staircases to the pedestrian overpass have been modified and back in use. The elevators are about to be adjusted to the new heights. While they are being modified, the elevators will be out of service. Therefore there will be limited use of the far track and on those times a van will take the passengers to the other side.  Also the Maintenance Facility at Brunswick, Maine continues to advance. Most of the exterior of that building has been completed and work has begun on the interior. Both projects should be substantially completed by next fall, but finishing touches at Kingston will linger on until next Spring.

14.   No further word on the long distance equipment (Diners, Baggage-Sleepers and Sleepers) being built by CAF.  On the high level corridor equipment that Nippon Shayro, has been testing components but still has a long way to go with their car shells to pass the crush tests.

Steve Musen 

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives