June 2018 Amtrak Financial Report

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

  • The report was dated July 31, 2018 and posted August 2, 2018. 
  • The NEC generated for the first nine months an operating surplus of $401.6 million ($34.8 million for just the month of June) and the remainder of the system had a deficit of $444.0 million ($106.6 million in June  alone). For the fiscal year to date, the NEC made debt service payments of $138.1 million and borrowed $30.3 million from the Riff loan for the Avila train sets and made other borrowings. After capital investments of $527.171 million, it had a carryover balance of $234.242 million (this was an increase of $24.840 million in the month of June alone). The National Network made debt service of $29.774 million and capital investment of $404.220 million. Again it exhausted all the remaining funds in the National Network Account and ended the month with a negative balance of $163.237 million. This was an increase of $73.669 from the previous month.  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 covered from cash reserves.
  • Capital Spending is described in broad categories for the FY2018 to date: Infrastructure $327.1 million, Stations and Real Estate $110.4 million, Fleet $226.7 million, Information Technology $63.1 million, ADA $33.8 million, and Support $5.4 million. In addition $111.3 million was spent on State local and other category. Total Capital Spending was down by $320.8 million over what was spent in FY2017 during the same period, as State, local and, other spending is less by $86.3 million and $360 million was not needed in RRIF borrowings because of the completion of the Sprinter Locomotive Deliveries. Some $35.0 million is assigned to RRIF which presumably is being used to construct the Avila Train Sets.
  • In a new listing, $21.2 million has been set aside for the North Portal Bridge and $33 million has been reserved for Hudson Property Acquisition. These are coming from the NEC Account.
  • The GAAP loss for the first eight months appears to be $689.1 million, however, the adjusted operating earnings (i.e. the cash operating needs of the corporation) were $24.6 million better than the comparable period last year. In the Short Term, it looks like the negative effects of the cuts being made are less than the savings. This is not likely to be the case in the long term.
  • Fourteen product lines are showing an operating surplus with Chicago – St. Louis  now showing a surplus:
    • Acela $253.1 million
  • Northeast Regionals $166.0 million
  • Washington-Newport News $4.2 million
  • Washington- Lynchburg (Roanoke) $3.9 million
  • Carolinian $2.3 million
  • Washington-Richmond $1.5 million
  • Washington-Norfolk $1.5 million
  • Hiawatha $1.2 million              
  • Downeaster $0.8 million
  • Vermonter $0.8 million
  • Illinois Zephyr $0.7 million
  • Kansas City-St. Louis $0.7 million
  • Chicago-St. Louis $0.5 million  
  •  Illini $0.2 million
  • The four Virginia product lines generated approximately $11.1 million in total operating surplus. 
  • Ridership for the first eight months is now 76,500 (approx.) less than the same period last year. For the year so far, ridership is 23,424,500 (since Amtrak won’t give the actual figures but rounds off to the nearest hundred). Fuel prices went up slightly during the period.
  • Despite howls of complaints about the “fresh and contemporary” dining menus on the Capitol Ltd. and the Lake Shore, management has decided to declaw the Eagle and remove the dining service on that train effective this September. Unlike the other two trains which usually serve only two meals in each direction, the Eagle has four meals for passengers going the full distance between San Antonio and Chicago. Southbound it is 2 dinners, 1 lunch and 1 breakfast. Northbound it is 1 dinner, 2 breakfasts and 1 lunch. Also if the Eagle is delayed significantly northbound, it could end up serving an extra lunch.  The Eagle is a more vulnerable train since its congressional delegation (that would protest its elimination) is somewhat less powerful (whereas the Southwest Chief had ten Senators willing to oppose its bustitution) and carries much less riders. However, if eliminated the effect on both the Sunset and Heartland Flyer would be horrendous, probably resulting in the discontinuance of both of those trains as well. 
  • One of the problems is that the full diversity of the box lunches is not always put on each train. Because of the popularity of the single heated meal (Beef Short Ribs), it sometimes is the only dinner meal loaded on. Also to be noted, each of the box meals are high in sodium, in some cases reaching for a single meal 150% of the recommended daily consumption. High levels of salt is used to camouflage poor quality meat.
  • The Senate passed a THUD Appropriation that was very favorable to Amtrak. The NEC got $600 million same amount that it got in FY2018, and the National System $1.292 billion. Since these are the exact figures that the House Appropriations Committee is recommending, it is most likely that these figures will be the final amount. Also passed were hefty amounts for CRISI (Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement) grants of $255 million, State of Good Repair Grants of $300 million, and $10 million for restoration and enhancement grants. These figures vary slightly from the House Appropriation Committee recommendation. Several amendments were added to the bill. One would require an update of the causes of the Amtrak late trains. Another was a sense of Congress that the long distance trains were necessary to have a National System. A third restored discounts for Veterans buying coach fares. The most important was an amendment that if honored would prevent the proposed bustitution that Amtrak has shopped around for the South West Chief.
  • CAF has coughed up three more diners and one combined baggage sleeper. Whether or not, Amtrak uses them as diners or parks them in the weeds at Hialeah depends on Amtrak Management realizing how much they are despised by the rail passenger community and tries to do something about it. The New Jersey Association of RR Passengers has already called for President Anderson to be fired. The baggage sleeper (or baggage dorm as it is more formally called), would free up space in the existing sleepers for what crew remains on the train. The rooms can also be sold to paying customers. 

Steve Musen

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