January 2018 Amtrak Financial Report

These are the items that I noticed in the report that were interesting to me:

  • The report was dated February 28, 2018 and posted on the web site on March 1, 2018.  January is always a bad month for Amtrak. This January was worse than usual.
  • The NEC generated for the first four months an operating surplus of $158.531 million ($12.035 million for just the month of January) and the remainder of the system had a deficit of $296.924 million ($90.744 million in January alone). During this time the NEC made debt service payments of $60.999 million and payments of $1.065 million on the Riff loan for the Avila train sets. After capital investments of $202.825 million, it had a carryover balance of $133.799 million. (This is an increase of $17.291 million in the month of January alone). The National Network made debt service of $13.918 million and capital investment of $168.091 million. It exhausted the all remaining funds in the National Network Account and ended the month with a negative balance of $0.977 million. This is still an $26.480 improvement over the balance at the end of December.
  • Keep in mind that Amtrak can loan one account out of the other and it also has a huge amount of funds that are unobligated. At the end of fiscal 2017 (September 30, 2017) Amtrak had a cash on hand balance of $1.101 billion with accounts receivable of $336.361 million and accounts payable of $471.944 million. In fact it had a current ratio of (Current Assets divided Current Liabilities )of 1.0996 which is probably the best in its history. So the negative balance in the National Network Account is not something to worry about (yet!).
  • Capital Spending is described in broad categories for the FY2018 to date: Infrastructure $124.9 million, Stations and Real Estate $38.4 million, Fleet $101.0 million, Information Technology $23.7 million, ADA $16.2 million, and Support $1.1 million. In addition $56.1 million was spent on State local and other category. Spending is very comparable to what was spent in FY2017 during the same period, except that State local and other is down sharply, and Amtrak direct spending up some $42 million. Some $9.5 million was borrowed on a RRIF loan which presumably is being used to construct the Avila Train Sets.
  • The GAAP loss for the first four months appears to be $386.2 million. However the adjusted operating earnings (ie the cash operating needs of the corporation) were $138.4 million worse than the comparable period last year.
  • The same nine product lines either showed an operating surplus or broke even.
    • Acela $105.9 million
    • Northeast Regionals $73.4 million
    • Washington- Lynchburg (Roanoke) $1.5 million
    • Washington-Newport News $0.9 million
    • Downeaster $0.7 million
    • Washington-Richmond $0.5 million
    • Washington-Norfolk $0.4 million
    • Carolinian $0.4 million
    • Vermonter $0.3 million

The four Virginia product lines generated approximately $3.3 million in total operating surplus.  The Downeaster made positive territory, the Ethan Allen went negative.

  • The current CR runs out on March 23, 2018. With the budget caps lifted, and agreement made on most points, there should be an omnibus bill available now. However, side issues continue to bedevil the process. There is talk of adding short term fix for DACA (Individuals who as children came in to this country or stayed in this country illegally) and then there is gun violence measures that could tie up congress so it is unable to do anything else.
  • Amtrak received two more diners from CAF (the Montpelier and the Nashville) bringing the total of brand new diners to 15 on hand, plus the original Viewliner diner, the Indianapolis. Currently, The Crescent, and Silver Meteor have running the new diners. It is hoped that once the latest diners have been thoroughly vetted, that they will run on other trains. The most likely candidate would be the Lake Shore Ltd. 10 more diners are still to be delivered before they start on the baggage dorm cars which would actually increase the capacity of the single level low distance trains.
  • The Downeaster will be running a pilot program in August to test the market for seasonal weekend service to Rockland, Maine. 
  • PTC continues to make headlines and could cause major problems for Amtrak schedules the rest of the year, and could cause suspensions after January 1, 2019. President Anderson has said that any segment that is required to have PTC on it and for which the FRA can not grant an extension will have service suspended until PTC is installed. For those segments where an extension is granted, Amtrak will investigate what interim safety measures should have been taken or whether that segment should be suspended until PTC is operable. Then there are the lines which were exempted from PTC because of low volume, so PTC is not being installed. They include the Downeaster, the Vermonter, Ethan Allen, portions of the Adirondack and the Cardinal. In some cases, there are no signals (dark territory) at all because of the very small volume of traffic, in others there are signals but not the level of safety that PTC would accomplish. Installation of PTC on these lines would not come cheaply and to make matters worse, there is a huge shortage of this equipment available. An order placed now might require multiple years to be manufactured and delivered. Installation would not start until the equipment arrived and could take additional years to be implemented. Amtrak does not want to lose the Vermonter since it does make money for them. They are exploring lower cost fixes, including have the conductor in dark territory ride in front of the cab.
  • The Trump budget and infrastructure plans were both released. They are not worth discussing.

Steve Musen

Representative to ARP’s Council of Representatives from the State of Rhode Island