July 2016 Amtrak Report

I have read the July report and these are the items I have found interesting:

1.       The report is dated September 2, 2016 and posted that same day. This is more in line with previous years but later than the last few months.

2.       The Amtrak ridership figures were good, however, revenue was hurt because of the discounts issued to lure riders.

3.       For the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, Amtrak had a cash operating loss of $185.6 million. It did have a cash operating surplus of $10.4 million for the month of July. However, historically July is the best month for operations. November and December do well because of Thanksgiving and Christmas travel but they occupy only a part of the month whereas travel in July is heavy for the entire month. For the entire year, Amtrak is now predicting a total cash loss of $244.0 million which is $16.7 million better than the previous prediction made at the end of June and which compares favorably with the $288.5 million operating appropriation that Congress set for FY2016. Gasoline prices dipped during July and rose again to June levels, but are still historically low and preventing larger ridership figures.

4.       Keystone is now showing an operating surplus bringing the total numbers of product lines with operating surpluses to thirteen:

Acela $254.4 million

Northeast Regionals $187.2 million

Washington-Newport News $5.6 million

Washington-Lynchburg $2.6 million

Carolinian $2.5 million

Maple Leaf $1.6 million

Washington-Richmond $0.9 million

Vermonter $0.9 million

Washington-Norfolk $0.6 million

Ethan Allen $0.4 million

Auto Train $0.3 million

Hoosier State $0.2 million

Keystone $0.2 million

The four Virginia state routes show a combined $9.7 million operating service. Interestingly Auto Train was able to increase its operating surplus despite being out of season.

5.       Cost Recovery remained at 98% and Food & Beverage improved to 57.2%. 

Food and Beverage always does better when ridership increases, and there is a strong argument to be made that when the Silver Fleet runs 18 cars (like it did in the 1970s) the dining cars may have made money.

6.       Amtrak’s new President has not been in place long enough to tell the Chief Engineer to publish his monthly report or to have the Financial Reports resumed in the monthly package. Hopefully he will do so soon. It has been 22 months since the last Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet and Cash Flows have been reported monthly and 10 months since we have had an Engineer’s report.

Amtrak has published their audited report for FY2015. We now know that total debt was $1.2405 billion on September 30, 2015 of which $290.727 million was Mortgages, $673.336 million was Capital Leases, the portion of the RRIF Loan that had not been converted to a capital lease was $71.710 million and other debt totaled $208.237. The report also indicated that the final payment on the Penn Station Mortgage will occur in June of 2017.

7.       On September 30, 2015 Amtrak had a cash balance of $576.1 million. What it is today is not being shared with us.

8.       The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report shows that during July: 13 Amfleet, 10 Superliners, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner Sleeper, and 1 Surfliner were overhauled. 

9.       For the year to date, ridership is now 222,728 more than last yea; for a yearly total of 25,940,055. Amtrak is likely to exceed in FY2016 the total ridership of FY2015; whether or not it sets a new records is possible.

10.   Authorized Capital Spending was actually decreased slightly. Forecast spending for the entire year is $127.668 million less than at the end of June.

In actual spending to date, the total so far this year is $1,147.174 million. Gateway projects have expended $50.155 million and Acquisitions have increased $50 thousand to $18.762 million. ADA expenditures have been $19.4 million so far this year. 

11.   Employment went down again by a significant 147 employees to 20,392 at the end of July.

12.   Congress was campaigning on vacation for the entire month of August so no progress has been made on any appropriation bills. The President has requested that in the continuing resolution that Congress must pass to fund the government that Amtrak be funded for the entire year at FY2016 rates. This would be less than either what the Senate passed and what the House Appropriations Committee is recommending. The idea is that since Amtrak is changing its accounting to reflect a separate Northeast Corridor and National System, it needs to know its entire budget now.

Meanwhile House Conservatives are lobbying against a lame duck session which could delay a final budget for Amtrak until January or even February. Most likely this demand will be overruled. Though it would be nice if some of the appropriation bills were passed by both houses and sent to the President before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2016.

No new sighting of the Diners from CAF Industries in Elmira, NY. This has become critical as only 8 of the heritage diners are still operational. This resulted that in the low level fleet only the Crescent and the Silver Meteor still have full dining service. The Cardinal and Lake Shore have enhanced diner lounges and the Silver Star(vation) is making do with only a club car.

Amtrak has signed a deal with Alstom to develop 28 new Acela sets to replace the current 20. Each set is to have nine cars rather than the current six (though each car is shorter) with the potential of adding three more cars to each set with a further order. The cost is $2 billion with delivery in 2021 to 2022. The cars will be paid for out of a RRIF Loan of $2.45 billion. The extra money will go primarily towards Washington and Moynihan (New York-Penn) stations as well as $90 million for track upgrades and $80 million for safety improvements.

Joe Boardman has retired as Amtrak President and Wick Moorman (formerly head of Norfolk Southern) is the new President.

The highlevel platforms at Kingston Station are nearing completion on the northbound side, and the layover facility at Brunswick Maine is expected to be put into service this month.

Steve Musen

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives