March 2017 Amtrak Report

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

  1. The report was dated May 19, 2017 and posted on the 22nd. This is late for the writing and later for the posting. 
  2. Ridership was down in March 2017 compared to March 2016, however, for the year to date is still ahead.
  3. For the first six months of the fiscal year Amtrak is runing $33.3 million behind budget but is $26.4 million ahead of last year. The budgetary loss comes from expenses in that defined category known as “other expenses” which is running $27.2 million behind budget. Salaries, Wages and Benefits are also running well behind the budget. Amtrak had for the first six months a cash operating loss of $116.3 million. This is only $3.3 million better than budget and $12.1 million better than the previous fiscal year for the same period. Subtracting the $243.5 million cash operating surplus for the NEC means that the National System (everything except the NEC) had a cash operating loss of $359.8 million for the first six months of the year. 

Amtrak appears to believe that the second half of the year will not be a good as last year. The forecast for the cash operating loss for the entire 2017 is $272.3 million which is $54.9 million worse than last month’s forecast.

13 product lines are still showing a contribution after all attributed costs: 

  1. Acela $144.5 million
  2. Northeast Regionals $99.6 million
  3. Washington-Newport News $2.7 million
  4. Chicago-St. Louis $2.2 million
  5. Washington-Lynchburg $2.1 million
  6. Carolinian $1.6 million
  7. Washington-Richmond $1.2 million
  8. Washington-Norfolk $1.0 million
  9. Non-NEC Specials $0.6 million
  10. Vermonter $0.3 million
  11. Cascades $0.3 million
  12. Ethan Allan $0.2 million
  13. Piedmont $0.1 million 

This is a loss of 3 product lines from the previous month.

Virginia’s four product lines produced a total of $7.0 million in operating surplus.

  1. Cost Recovery is still 96.0%. Food and Beverages also continues to dip to 57.1%. One can assume that the “penny pinching” ways of squeezing costs out of the food service 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 17 months since this report was included. Also missing now for 30 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 should have been delayed awaiting the President to submit first his budget. Since the Trump Administration only filed the complete budget on May 23, 2017, we are still waiting as of May 30, 2017 for Amtrak’s legislative request.
  3. The Chief Mechanical Officer’s report shows that in March Amtrak overhauled: 12 Amfleets, 11 Superliners, 2 Horizon, 1 Viewliner, 1 Surfliner, and 3 Acela Train Sets.  
  4. For the first six months Amtrak was running 147,940 more passengers than in the previous year. For the fiscal year to date, the total is 15,139,632. Product lines that are up over 10% from the previous period of time are: Non-NEC Special Trains (+90.1%), NEC Special Trains (+23.6%), Texas Eagle  (+21.0%), Hoosier State (11.6%), and Chicago-St. Louis (+10.1%).
  5. Authorized spending for the entire year was increased in March by $1.9 million and is now at $2,073.7 million. 

In actual spending to date Amtrak has spent $522.8 million: Hudson Yards Tunnel Box shows expenditures of $0.8 million, CAF shows expenditures of $3.2 million (up by $0.3 million from the previous month), and ADA Expenditures was $20.4 million.

  1. Employment was unchanged from February. There were 19,970 employees.
  2. Amtrak made out reasonably well in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill receiving $105 million more than in FY2016. Unfortunately only a few months are left to start projects, which Congress expects Amtrak to do with the extra money. One of those would be the North Portal Bridge where construction is expected to commence this summer, however, in the complete budget released by the Trump Administration on May 23, 2017 the proposed spending levels would be slashed in half, with discontinuances expected of all long distance trains. Since that budget does not contemplate the cost of worker protection for employees who lose their jobs, the entire system could be under extreme financial pressure as a result. The proposed budget also assumes that in future years, all non-defense appropriations would be cut by an additional 2% each year with no allowance for inflation.

Amtrak also faces a partial shut down of Penn Station in New York City as work is undertaken to replace the rail, ties and ballast on the tracks leading into the two Hudson Tunnels. There will be cuts in weekday services affecting New Jersey Transit and Long Island RR riders, and a few Albany, NY trains may be temporarily shifted to Grand Central Station. New Jersey Transit has indicated that all midtown direct trains of the M&E (Morris & Essex) division will be shifted to the Hoboken Terminal.

Amtrak received two diners from CAF Industries in April bringing to three the total number of new diners now in service.

Steve Musen

Rhode Island representative to NARP’s Council of Representatives