These are the items that I noticed in the report that were interesting to me:
- The report was dated March 27, 2018 and posted on the web site on March 30, 2018
- The NEC generated for the first four months an operating surplus of $184.1 million ($25.6 million for just the month of February) and the remainder of the system had a deficit of $371.3 million $76.4 million in February alone). For the fiscal year to date, the NEC made debt service payments of $70.434 million and net payments after borrowing of $21.5 million on the Riff loan for the Avila train sets. After capital investments of $264.282 million, it had a carryover balance of $150.386 million, this is an increase of $16.587 million in the month of February alone. The National Network made debt service of $14.669 million and capital investment of $210.843 million. It exhausted all remaining funds in the National Network Account and ended the month with a negative balance of $28.082 million. 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 $152.5 million, Stations and Real Estate $48.9 million, Fleet $123.5 million, Information Technology $30.9 million, ADA $19.4 million, and Support $3.0 million. In addition $75.4 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 $54.8 million. Some $21.5 million is assigned to RRIF which presumably is being used to construct the Avila Train Sets.
- The GAAP loss for the first five months appears to be $497.1 million, however, the adjusted operating earnings (the cash operating needs of the corporation) were $94.5 million worse than the comparable period last year.
- The same nine product lines either showed an operating surplus or broke even:
Acela $126.6 million
Northeast Regionals $81.9 million
Washington- Lynchburg (Roanoke) $1.8 million
Washington-Newport News $1.3 million
Downeaster $0.8 million
Washington-Richmond $0.7 million
Washington-Norfolk $0.6 million
Carolinian $0.6 million
Vermonter $0.4 million
The four Virginia product lines generated approximately $4.4 million in total operating surplus.
- On March 23, 2018 the President signed the omnibus appropriations bill. The figures were very good for Amtrak. The NEC Appropriation was $650 million and the National Network Grants were $1,291 million. In addition, the FAST Act Grants were $592.547 million for Consolidated Rail Improvement and Safety Improvement Grants (CRISI), $250 million for the Federal State Partnership for State of Good Repair and $20 million for Restoration & Enhancement Grants. Congress even threw in $25 million to pay for the credit risk insurance on RRIF loans. How that money will be spent will play out over the next few months. Approximately $250 of the CRISI Money is to be used for grants to install PTC and $50 million of the National Network grants is to be used to share installation of safety measures (including some PTC) on routes that are exempt from installing PTC (such as most of the Downeaster).
- The NEC Grants were $328.350 million more than what Amtrak had budgeted into their FY2018 service plan. It is expected that serious construction can begin on the North Portal Bridge and the final phase of the Hudson Yards Tunnel Box. With the final EIS for the actual tubes expected in April, Amtrak also will be able to do final engineering on the tubes to be constructed so that actual construction can begin next year. Other projects that might have contributions made towards their construction would be the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel replacement, the Susquehanna Bridge replacement, and other elements of Gateway.
- The National Network Grants give Amtrak some wiggle room to consider new long haul locomotives and to prepare specs for a low level car order next year.
- The corridor between New Orleans and Mobile also appears more likely to occur. The longer route between New Orleans and Orlando is far more expensive and opposed by CSX, however, CSX has the Baldwin to Pensacola segments up for sale, and the new owners may be more favorable to restoration of service across the Florida Panhandle.
- Finally, the Capital Grants appropriations of the Federal Transit Administration were increased. In the Obama administration, two elements of Gateway were initiated into the New Starts Program. However, the current administration has downgraded them allegedly because of a poor financial commitment by the requesting states, however, the Hudson Tunnel and the North Portal Bridge still remain in the program.
- Not to be overlooked was the tripling of the TIGER Grants from $500 million to $1,500 million. While rail did very well with TIGER Grants under the previous administration, the current one has been awarding a much larger share to rural and highway oriented projects. However the Southwest Chief route did get a substantial grant in the last set of awards.
- The Downeaster will not be running a pilot program in August to test the market for seasonal weekend service to Rockland, ME. Amtrak did not have enough time to evaluate the route for safety and still be able to qualify its engineers to be able to run on the extension. The Northern New England Rail Passenger Corp which manages the Downeaster will try again for the summer of 2019.
- 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 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. As stated above there is some money available to be matched.
- Amtrak has decided to reduce significantly the number places that private railroad cars can be attached or detached from one of its trains. This causes major problems for owners who store their cars in locations where the train cannot be attached. The private car owners while small in numbers tend to be more influential with the Congress and have used their influence to benefit Amtrak. Amtrak has decided to reduce most special movements saying they no longer have sufficient equipment available. On top of this, Amtrak has eliminated discounts for Students and AAA members and reduced the discount for Seniors from 15% to 10% for coach. All in all, not exactly measures designed to increase ridership and attract pollical support.
- No new equipment has been received since the previous report
Representative to Narp’s Council of Representatives from the State of Rhode Island