December 2016 Amtrak Report

I have read the December report and this is what I found interesting:

  1. The report was dated January 31, 2017 and posted that same day. This is slightly early from previous years. The report continues to mirror (with a couple of exceptions) the reports from FY2016. Also Amtrak published the financial pages from its 2016 Annual Report, so I am able to integrate that information.
  2. The month showed an increase in ridership for the month of December from December 2015, however, revenues per passenger were off, particularly hard hit was the Auto Train.
  3. For the first three months of FY2017 Amtrak is still running $0.8 million better than budget and a cash operating loss of $5.2 million. However since the Northeast Corridor had a cash operating surplus of $149 million this means the rest of the National System had a cash operating loss of $154.2 million for the same period. Since Congress has appropriated $664.6 million for the national system so far, Amtrak should have no problem in operating the full system through April 28, 2017 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out. The NEC has been appropriated $134.74 million in the two CRs. 
  4. FIFTEEN PRODUCT LINES are now showing operating profits and two more have operating profits nominally in excess of zero. This is the largest number of product lines in this category that I can recall. However, with January being a poor month historically, that number should slip dramatically in the next report.

 Acela $82.9 million

Northeast Regionals $66.6 million

Keystone $1.7 million

Washington-Newport News $1.6 million

Washington-Lynchburg $1.2 million

Carolinian $0.8 million

Vermonter $0.8 million

Washington-Richmond $0.7 million

Washington-Norfolk $0.6 million

Hiawatha $0.3 million

Wolverines $0.2 million

Kansas City-St. Louis $0.2 million

Maple Leaf $0.1 million

Hoosier State $0.1 million

Ethan Allen $0.1 million

New Haven-Springfield >$0.00

Piedmont >$0.00

The total for Virginia’s four product lines was $4.1 million and Vermont was $0.9 million.

  1. Cost Recovery for the first three months for the entire system was 102% and recovery for Food & Beverages was 59.4%. Note that F&B slipped in December from previous months.
  2. The Engineer’s report is still AWOL. It has been 15 months since this report was included. Also missing for 27 Months are the Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow pages. Amelorating this somewhat is that the Annual Report for FY2016 was published so we know that as of October 1, 2016 Amtrak had a cash balance of $760.4 million. Its debt structure totaled $1,171.3 million when current debt is included. Of this debt Mortgages accounted for $254.185 million, and Capital Leases were $664.099 (plus payments due within the following 12 months). A footnote at the end of the annual report showed that most of the capital leases were converted to promissory notes on December 6, 2016.
  3. The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report shows that in December Amtrak overhauled: 13 Amfleets, 10 Superliners, 2 Horizons, 1 Viewliner, and 1 Surfliner. No mention was made as to whether or not a partridge in a pear tree was overhauled in December.
  4. For the first three months Amtrak was running 133,941 passengers more than in the previous year. For the fiscal year to date the total is 8,002,159. Product lines that up over 10% from the previous period of time are Chicago-St. Louis (22.7%), Texas Eagle (18.4%), Palmetto (16.1%), and the Cascades (13.8%).
  5. Authorized spending for the entire year was increased by $11.181 million. Three departments received significant increases: Environment was up by $5.050 million, Finance & Treasury $5.848 million, and NECIID by $2.550 million offset by small reductions in Engineering and Transportation.

Forecast spending for the entire year was significantly reduced by $106.029 million with the Strategic Fleet Rail Initiative now forecast to spend $220.212 million less. On the other hand, Engineering is now forecast to spend $111.882 more than was estimated in November. Other departments make up the difference.

Actual spending to date on Capital Projects is $271.563 million. Gateway is $10.657 million, Acquisitions is $2.349 (gain of $0.135 million), and ADA Expenditures now total $7.9 million.

  1. Employment was way down in December for a loss of 126 employees to a new level of 20,041. 
  2. In general news Elaine Chao was confirmed as Secretary of Transportation making her automatically a director of Amtrak. Traditionally, the FRA Administrator acts as the proxy for the Transportation Secretary. At this time, Sarah Fineberg has left the position of FRA Administrator and no replacement has been announced. 

NEC/Futures has published its TIER ONE preferred alternative for the NEC and it has not gone well in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Governor Raimondo has reversed herself on the Old Saybrook to Kenyon bypass. This will be the primary topic of the next RIARP Meeting in March.

No new equipment has been released since the last report, and rumors circulate that further cuts have been made to employment by Nippon Shayro who are supposed to construct the bilevel corridors cars for California and the Midwest. On October 1, 2017 the stimulus money for these cars will no longer be available. CAF Industries is supposed to release another diner in March.

The infrastructure bill being proposed is being drafted by Congress but won’t be released until late April at the earliest. Contradictory rumors abound that on one hand Trump wants to build the Gateway, Create, and Texas Central projects and on other hand, denies that any specific projects have been selected.  On the other hand, or perhaps foot, it is stated that the Heritage Foundation has convinced Trump to zero out Amtrak operating funds and to eliminate over time the capital support. 

Iowa Pacific has decided to drop its sponsorship of the Hoosier State effective March 1, 2017. Amtrak has agreed to run it through the end of the contract in mid-June. Amtrak has not decided which of the amenities that Iowa Pacific had enhanced the train with, but indicated that WI-FI would be retained. Iowa Pacific is suffering huge losses and may have to liquidate some of its heritage fleet. If that occurs, it will be interesting to see if Amtrak is nimble enough to pick up some of the dome cars to supplement its existing one. This would allow trains like the Adirondack to run a dome car every day in both directions when the foliage season occurs. It also might help with Amtrak’s current equipment shortage. Of course the heritage equipment of Iowa Pacific is between 50 and 60 years old, so with the exception of another dome car, this would be a short term solution.

Steve Musen

 Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives