April 2018 Amtrak Financial Report

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

  • The report was dated  May 31, 2018. As I was out of the country I do not know when it was posted except that it was on the web when I returned June 7, 2018.
  • The NEC generated for the first seven months an operating surplus of $303.6 million ($53.2 million for just the month of April) and the remainder of the system had a deficit of $444.0 million ($48.8 million in April alone). For the fiscal year to date, the NEC made debt service payments of $83.0 million and borrowed of $28.4 million on the Riff loan for the Avila train sets. After capital investments of $385.798 million, it had a carryover balance of $255.138 million. This is an increase of $65.608 million in the month of April alone. The National Network made debt service of $22.032 million and capital investment of $301.441 million. It exhausted all remaining funds in the National Network Account and ended the month with a negative balance of $8.462 million, this was an improvement of $66.491 from the previous month.  With the 2018 omnibus appropriations being signed into law, Amtrak has been receiving large additional funds from the US  Treasury.  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 may go away as more appropriations arrive.
  • Capital Spending is described in broad categories for the FY2018 to date: Infrastructure $2324 million, Stations and Real Estate $78.8 million, Fleet $182.8 million, Information Technology $42.8 million, ADA $26.2 million, and Support $3.4 million. In addition $92.4 million was spent on State local and other category. Total Capital Spending is up by $35.5 million over what was spent in FY2017 during the same period, despite that State local and other is down by $69.1 million. Some $28.4 million is assigned to RRIF which presumably is being used to construct the Avila Train Sets.
  • The GAAP loss for the first seven months appears to be $577.8 million. However the adjusted operating earnings (i.e. the cash operating needs of the corporation) were $28.5 million worse than the comparable period last year.
  • The eleven product lines that showed an operating surplus:
    • Acela $188.1 million
    • Northeast Regionals $128.8 million
    • Washington- Lynchburg (Roanoke) $3.1 million
    • Washington-Newport News $2.9 million
    • Carolinian $1.8 million
    • Washington-Richmond $1.2 million
    • Washington-Norfolk $1.1 million
    • Downeaster $0.9 million
    • Vermonter $0.7 million
    • Illinois Zephyr $0.4 million
    • Kansas City-St. Louis $0.1 million
    • The four Virginia product lines generated approximately $8.3 million in total operating surplus. 
  • Ridership for the first seven months is now approximately 9,400 less than the same period last year. While NEC and State Supported Corridors are still slightly up, the Long Distance Trains are down. Amtrak’s management is at fault here; besides eliminating ticket agents, they have replaced a successful local marketing group with national control. The elimination of the Pacific Parlor Car, the restrictions on Private Varnish and the general tone towards Long Distance Trains is affecting bookings. Also the anticipated elimination of hot meals on the Capitol and Lake Shore may affect ridership as potential customers think that that policy is already in effect. Then there is the lack of marketing overall, and the absence of any attempt to increase the number of Long Distance Train to offset the shrinking of consists. Add in minor grievances such as the elimination of printed timetables and reduction in the number of locations with checked baggage. We also must allow for chronic late trains on several routes to depress ridership. All this comes with gasoline prices rising to almost $3.00 a gallon. Should gasoline prices rise further, it may overcome the incompetence at Amtrak’s management.
  • For the year so far, ridership is approximately 17,892,6XX (Amtrak does not give the actual figures but rounds off to the nearest thousand). 
  • Amtrak has announced a new menu for both the NEC Regional, Acela and Lake Shore Ltd Café Cars. While getting quality suppliers, all food will be prepared in advance. So you have no choice if you do not want cheese on any entrée, with the exception of the Hebrew National Hot Dog. Eliminated is milk, Sara Lee Danish and the Fruit Bowl among other items. 
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its version of the 2019 THUD Bill. It is similar to the House THUD when it comes to Amtrak. It does make some changes in the FAST Act grant programs reducing the State of Good Repair Grants but including some money for restoration and enhancement grants. It does not contain any money for MAGLEV.
  • Amtrak has started interoperations of PTC with some subdivisions of BNSF. These concern the SW Chief and the California Zephyr. However, it will take until August to integrate all lines running on BNSF.

Steve Musen

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