September 2016 Amtrak Report

I have read the September Report and this is what I found interesting:

1.       The report is dated November 1, 2016 and posted the same day. For the final report in a fiscal year, this is extremely early.

2.       Amtrak set a new record for ridership with a total of 31,747,790 which is 392,661 more than last year. Revenues and expenses were also favorable.

3.       For the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2016 Amtrak had a cash operating loss of $181.5 million which indicates that for the month of September, Amtrak had a positive cash flow of $17.4 million. Considering that Congress appropriated $288.5 million for operations, Amtrak should have $107 million left over for investment or other matters, however, Amtrak recently agreed to pay $265 million to the victims of the Train 188 crash. It is unknown how much of that is covered by insurance and how much Amtrak will have to pay out of pocket. So we should not expect that extra money will be totally available.

4.       The Auto Train finally lost its operating surplus in September, reducing to twelve the number of product lines with operating surpluses:

Acela $292.9 million

Northeast Regionals $187.1 million

Washington-Newport News $7.1 million

Washington-Lynchburg $3.5 million

Carolinian $3.3 million

Maple Leaf $2.4 million

Vermonter $1.4 million

Washington-Richmond $1.3 million

Washington-Norfolk $0.8 million

Ethan Allen $0.4 million

Keystone $0.3 million

Hoosier State $0.2 million

The total for Virginia was $12.7 million in operating surplus from their four state supported product lines.

5.       Cost Recovery remained at 98.0% and Food and Beverage continues its improvement to 58.6%.

6.       The Chief Engineers report is still AWOL. This makes a full year since this report was included. The Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flows have been missing for TWO FULL YEARS. I am unaware of any other periodic report by any corporation that does not include these financial statistics. Without knowing the amount of cash on hand and the burn rate for monthly expenses, it is impossible to rate Amtrak on any intelligent basis. 

7.       The Chief Mechanical Officer shows that in September Amtrak overhauled: 17 Amfleet, 11 Superliner, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner, 1 Surfliner, and 1 Acela Set. For the entire fiscal year, Amtrak overhauled 172 Amfleet which is 106.2% of the goal for FY2016. The equivalent figures for Superliners was 116 (105.5% of goal), Horizons 25 (100%), Viewliners 12 (85.7%), Surfliners 13 (108.3%) and 5 Acela sets (125%).

8.       As noted above Amtrak set a new Annual Ridership record. This despite the Springfield-New Haven line being bus-subsituted for most of the shuttles for the majority of the year.

9.       Authorized Spending increased by $139.695 million as $145.453 million was added to Strategic Fleet Initiatives. Which begs the question what is Strategic Fleet Initiatives. Actual spending for this category was $158.133 million up from $11.230 million spent in the first 11 months. Since Acquisitions are included in the Mechanical portion, one could guess that it has to do with the new Acela purchase announcement. But that is an awful heavy expenditure for a signing payment with the prototype not expected to be tested until 2019.

Actual spending (not including debt service) was $1,601,479,000 on the annual capital program. Spending on the Gateway was $58.9 million and actual acquisitions was $19.669 million (which is up by $630,000 from the end of August). Spending for ADA projects for the entire year was $25.9 million slightly more than 50% of what the budget called for but still a huge increase from previous years.

10.   Employment was down another 32 people in September reducing total Amtrak employment to 20,183. Many of the reductions during the summer were station agents, as the penny pinchers go about destroying the small stations despite improved boardings.

11.   In general news the money appropriated for Amtrak at the end of September was not a full year enactment. Rather the legislation set the proportion of money set through December 9th in a different accounting than previous years. This means that Amtrak appropriations contained in the THUD Bill needs to be addressed when Congress returns after the elections. Hopefully this will mean a slight increase over previous years.

CAF has released a single diner (The Annapolis) which is headed to Hialeah to be tested there to ensure that it meets its specifications. This car is two years overdue. Amtrak wants to do extensive testing on the car to make sure that all of the bugs have been resolved. If that is the case the next cars would be expected in January of 2017.

Nippon Sharo has yet to perfect a car body that will pass the buff test. However componets of the interior of the car shell have been received and tested.

In Maine, the maintenance facility is now complete. An open house was held and on November 23, 2016 that third round trip will be extended to Brunswick.

In Rhode Island, the project at Kingston is nearing completion of the high level portion. The elevators are keyed to open at the new higher level of the platforms and the high platforms are nearly done. The right of way for the third set of tracks is being graded so that the ties and rail can be laid. The last step will be to construct the overhead catenary on them. The project is expected to be completed by next spring.

On October 1, 2016 Amtrak pulled the sole agent at Westerly and shuttered the waiting room. Due to a snafu at the operating end, Amtrak’s Government Affairs (and consequently the State and Town of Westerly ) was not notified until a week before. The State DOT, the Congressional Delegation and representatives of the Town have devised a plan to reopen the waiting room. Security Cameras will be installed and a cleaning crew hired, however, State procedures require open bidding for the work (including advertising and time for the bids to be filed). This takes months to be done legally so the station remains closed in the meantime. The trains are still stopping at the station to debark and receive passengers. The real test will come during Thanksgiving, when trains have a tendancy to be sold out. It would not be a good time to try to purchase a ticket on board the train.

STEVE MUSEN

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives