January 2017 Amtrak Report

I have read the January Report and these are the items that caught my attention:

  1. The report was dated March 16, 2017 and posted late that afternoon. This is later than some of the western long distance trains have been. Amtrak has changed and reduced the amount of information in Capital Spending report, though the items of importance that I have been following stand out better.
  2. Ridership was up in January 2017 compared to January 2016. However January continues to be the cruelest month in the calendar when it comes to financial return. 
  3. For the first four months of the fiscal year Amtrak is running $35.0 million behind budget, but is $4.3 million ahead of last year. The budgetary loss comes from expenses, particularly that definite category known as other expenses which is running $20.6 million behind budget. Salaries, Wages and Benefits are also running well behind the budget. Amtrak had for the first four months a cash operating loss of $67.9 million. This is only $1.0 million worse than budget and is actually $11.7 million better than the previous fiscal year for the same period. Subtracting the $174.8 million cash operating surplus for the NEC means that the National System (everything except the NEC) had a cash operating loss of $242.7 million for the first third of the year. 
  4. 14 product lines are still showing a contribution after all attributed costs:
  1. Acela $100.3 million
  2. Northeast Regionals $74.8 million
  3. Washington-Newport News $2.0 million
  4. Washington-Lynchburg $1.6 million
  5. Carolinian $1.2 million
  6. Washington-Richmond $1.0 million
  7. Washington-Norfolk $0.8 million
  8. Keystone $0.2 million
  9. Vermonter $0.2 million
  10. Non-NEC Specials $0.2 million
  11. Cascades $0.1 million
  12. Hoosier State >$0.0
  13. Ethan Allan >$0.0
  14. Piedmont >$0.0

Virginia’s four product lines produced a total of $5.4 million in operating surplus.

  1. Cost Recovery suffered in January and now for the first four months is only 96.0%. Food and Beverages also continue to dip to 58.1%. One can assume that the “penny pinching” ways of squeezing costs out of the food service has reached its maximum effectiveness, and more and more people are avoiding the food service cars as a result.
  2. The Engineer’s report is still AWOL. It has been 16 months since this report was included. Also missing for 28 Months are the Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow pages. Amtrak’s legislative request for 2018 would contain some of this information, but that has been delayed awaiting the president to submit his complete budget. Since the Trump Administration only filed a partial budget and expects to file a complete budget in May we may have to wait a while for Amtrak’s legislative request.
  3. The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report shows that in January, Amtrak overhauled: 12 Amfleets, 6 Superliners, 1 Horizon, 1 Viewliner, 2 Surfliners, and an Acela train set.  Production at both Beech Grove and Bear was significantly less than in previous months. 
  4. For the first four months Amtrak was running 280,760 more passengers than in the previous year. For the fiscal year to date the total is 10,331,727. Product lines that are up over 10% from the previous period of time are Non-NEC Special Trains (+81.7%), Texas Eagle (+23.2%), Chicago-St. Louis (+17.3%), NEC Special Trains (+16.1%), Palmetto (+14.4%), Cascades (+13.3%), and the Vermonter (+11.0%).
  5. Authorized spending for the entire year was slashed by $324.653 million and is now at $1,955.518. Because of the shifting of categories, it is hard to pin down all of the cuts, especially as there is now a category of “other departments”. Clear winners were: Finance & Treasury plus $9.579 million, Information Technology plus $6.483 million, and Real Estate is $8.792 million. The Gateway has been carved out of Engineering and CAF (presumably the manufacturer of the Viewliner Cars) out of Mechanical and possibly Acquisitions. 

Forecast spending for the entire year was also slashed by $248.069 million from the forecast contained in the December report.

Actual capital spending to date is $354.896 million. Gateway has received $13.869 million more in expenditures and Acquisitions are up by $0.351 million to $2.700 million. ADA (also a separate accounting item from engineering) is $16.393 million for the first four months.

  1. Employment took another hit with a reduction of 105 employees in January. At the end of that month there were 19,936 employees.
  2. Jeffrey Rosen was nominated as deputy transportation secretary. Also a past employee of the USDOT, his record as chief counsel was not favorable to Amtrak. But he was only reflecting what the Administration was directing him to do.

The skinny budget issued by the Trump administration was not favorable to rail and transit passengers at all. The budget would kill all 15 long distance trains, all TIGER grants, Essential Airline service grants and restrict new start money to only those projects which already have full funding agreements. Since the budget indicates that no new full funding agreements are to issue, the idea is that over time to phase out the remainder of this program. Of course Congress will make changes, the question being where the restorations will be made. The skinny budget hit many areas of the budget including many popular programs.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking on the April 28, 2017 termination date of the latest Continuing Resolution. The House has passed a Defense Bill and sent it to the Senate. That bill would dispose of about half of the discretionary money in the 2017 budget. It had bipartisan support in the house. But the Senate has not done anything with it yet. If nothing is done, after April 28th there would be no money for any of the departments except Veteran’s Affairs and a portion of Defense.

Steve Musen 

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives