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Author Topic: "Almost Breaking Even"
Gilbert B Norman
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Associated Press reports that Amtrak's operating loss for Fiscal Year Ended Sep 30, 2019 was less than $30M:

Courtesy New York Times

Volks, like it or not. Mr. Anderson IS doing what he was hired to do.

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George Harris
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Yeah, and I just saw a pig flying by my window.
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palmland
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The day of reckoning for the LD network will come next year when Amtrak makes their pitch for reauthorization. I reread this WSJ article from February.

“We are un­der­tak­ing a ma­jor re­think­ing of the na­tional net­work and how we of­fer ser­vice on the na­tional net­work,” an Am­trak spokes­woman said. “That study and plan­ning isn’t done yet, and we aren’t pre­pared to an-nounce any plans or rec­om-men­da­tions yet—those will come in our reau­tho­riza-tion pro­posal.”

Glad we had an opportunity to ride on the Sunset and SWC this year. But I think the $50 million congress threw at the SWC for more trackwork will save it, but it may be chopped in pieces: CHI-KC, KC- ABQ ((or Denver?), and ABQ-LAX.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Obviously, I hold this development of "as good as break even" to be one very significant in Amtrak's history. That it is costing taxpayers nothing to run their trains, is something that recent CEO's could not envision on their respective watches.

And now, Mr.Anderson has done it on his.

Sorry if experiental or the "how do I get to my doctor in Minneapolis" don't like it, but Anderson is transforming Amtrak into an agency that provides transportation in markets where such is viable- just as Delta does.

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yukon11
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I will give Mr. Anderson credit for reducing operating losses. However, there still is the depreciation issue and state tax subsidies (when it applies) counted as passenger revenue:

https://is.gd/mvfWDI

Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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Randall O'Toole---PLEASE!!

Depreciation Expense is recorded on Amtrak's books as an Operating Expense which, along with Fuel, Wages, Maintenance, Stations, etc. is deducted from Operating Revenues to arrive at Net Railway Operating Income. That is what GAAP calls for.

If somehow, Amtrak is passing off a Cash Flow measurement such as EBIDTA, as Net Income, they will have independent auditors "all over them".

Now Mr. O'Toole's other point regarding payment from Local (mostly State) agencies to operate trains has a bit more merit. Since the Federal appropriation is not treated as revenue, but rather as Paid-In-Capital, so Mr. O'Toole apparently thinks, should these agency payments.

As a CPA (retired; but the Title is mine for life), I had to think about it, but I disagree. Such payments are directly tied to the operation of trains; no train, no payment. Just the same as a passenger buying a ticket.

The Federal appropriation is awarded as part of enacted legislation. It's there so long as the Treasury prints money.

The FY19 Audited Financial Statements will likely be released next March. I will be "devouring" them.

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
As a CPA (retired; but the Title is mine for life), I had to think about it, but I disagree.

Did not know that. Thought it was only so long as you kept it renewed. At least, I am of the impression that the PE that I own can be claimed only as long as I keep it renewed. The certificate that can be put on the wall will be there, but the card in the corner that shows it to be current won't have a "good" date on it. By the way, before the next renewal expires, I will have had that for 50 years. And believe me, I fully intend to make that next renewal if I am still breathing.
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Gilbert B Norman
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I think PE and CPA appear same insofar as retired/inactive certificate holders go. One way or the other, it's a fancy piece of paper hanging on the wall. That's where mine hangs along with my HS Diploma, U of Ill degree, Honorable Discharge, and Air Force Commendation Medal. My License to practice is, of course, expired and cannot be displayed.

If for some insane reason I wished to practice again, the state would likely want eighty hours of Continuing Education and proof of insurance. I would not, however, have to sit for the exam.

Now in all honesty, I did keep "seven of 'em" into a post-retirement practice. They were mostly elderly and had been with me since the start during '82. I carefully explained that I no longer have standing as a CPA, and just think of me as "Gil's Bookkeeping and Tax Service", because that's all I am. That folded up during '17. The last of their records will be shredded next year.

Related to that, I know a gal out here who was still working at age 74. She got whacked in a management shakeup, but even though her daughter tells me "she's $$$ fine", she has gone out and gotten another job.

I don't get it; for at age 62 "I'd had it". I closed my practice, other than the noted seven, with whom appointments were more a social visit. Honestly, have never looked back, for I was "out" with my health intact, and enough loot to reasonably do as I pleased.

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yukon11
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
[QB]

If for some insane reason I wished to practice again, the state would likely want eighty hours of Continuing Education and proof of insurance. I would not, however, have to sit for the exam.

**************************

80 hours of Continuing Education!! As Gabby Hayes would say, "jumping jehoshaphat!"

I used to complain about 30 units of CE, per year, to keep up my pharmacy license. After retirement, I went inactive which means I no longer have to take required CE, but I still have to pay the annual license fee. You would think it would be the reverse. I guess the state board likes money.

Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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I'm not certain how.much new ground has been broken, but for a publication owned by a possible Presidential candidate, you sit down:

Bloomberg Business Week

Fair Use:
  • The Crescent is one of Amtrak’s tardiest trains. Southbound, it leaves New York’s Pennsylvania Station every day at 2:15 p.m. Around 9 the next morning it pulls into Atlanta, where many passengers either depart or step off for a long-awaited cigarette. It ambles through some hypnotically beautiful Alabama countryside and somnolent Mississippi towns before arriving in New Orleans, according to the schedule, at 7:32 p.m. Almost three-quarters of the time, however, the Crescent is late, often by two hours or more. Last year, Amtrak lost $39 million on the line, which comes as no surprise. How many people want to take such an unreliable train?

    The people I spoke with in the dining car all had stories about the Crescent’s delays and why they endured them. A semiretired cotton company executive from Montgomery, Ala., was a train lover and just happy to be aboard. “I enjoy it,” he said, “even when it’s late.” We ate dinner with an Atlanta dentist returning from a wedding in New York. Normally he would have flown, but he’d had knee surgery and couldn’t sit still for several hours on a plane.
Quotations such as above suggest to the reader that the LD's are largely used by people with special circumstances and not by those who simply want reliable transportation from Atlanta to Birmingham, i.e. A to B.
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yukon11
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From Mr. Norman's link, above:

"He also wants to reconfigure Amtrak’s long-distance routes so they’re no longer money sops. He says several, including the Empire Builder and the California Zephyr, which transport passengers from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, respectively, could be turned into luxe excursions for rail enthusiasts who want to cross the Continental Divide in style."

What does Mr. Anderson have in mind? Could it be a luxe excursion run by Amtrak or by private interests? Could the Coast Starlight be included? Maybe not. The annual upheaval from Calif. wild fires could eventually result in the Starlight on-time record worse than the Crescent, at least during the summer and fall months.

Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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I'm "tapped out" of freebies at Business Week. Who knows for how long?

So I copied this Opinion piece to an email that I sent to myself; hopefully now I can give it the justice I believe it deserves. Nevertheless, for those not so "tapped out" here is a link to the material:

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-11-21/amtrak-isn-t-about-to-turn-a-profit

Fair Use:
  • Earlier this month, Amtrak announced a smallest-ever “adjusted operating loss” of $29.8 million in the 2019 fiscal year, which ended in September, and said it is on a “path to achieve operational breakeven in fiscal year 2020.” Along with the news that Amtrak ridership had hit an all-time high of 32.5 million, this garnered some nice headlines.

    There are some other, less-impressive numbers, though, that the government-owned passenger railroad disclosed this week with no fanfare. Amtrak’s net loss according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles was $874.8 million, up from $817.2 million in FY 2018. Amtrak also reported receiving $234 million in support from the governments of states through which some of its trains run; without that money, losses would have been well over $1 billion..
At first blush, it does not appear to be propaganda from any advocacy group, or on the other hand, "non-foamer foamer" O'Toole.

Something tells me, there will be unanswered questions until the Audited Financial Statements are released likely during 1CQ 20. Is the $29.8M "loss" being touted some kind of "Earnings Before I Tricked The Dumb Auditor", bka EBIDTA - Earnings Before Interest, Depreciation, Taxes, Amortization, which is a measurement of Cash Flow from operations, or is it a measurement of Net Railway Operating Income. NROI does reflect Equipment Depreciation, and Amortization of Capitalized Leases, in addition to "all the rest" - Fuel, Salaries, Maintenance of both Way and Equipment.

Not reflected within NROI is Debt Service, Taxes, and any other expenses not related to running trains.

Now what I believe is unfavorable misleading is saying that payment from Local agencies (mostly State) to operate trains is anything other than Operating Revenue. The payments are made by the agency to Amtrak (or if the perpetual threat of another operator ever comes to pass) for operating trains to their specifications That is revenue just as much as walking up to the window (or more the case nowadays, clicking "Purchase") and buying transportation from A to B.

This will be interesting to watch as it unfolds.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Richard, hard as it may be for the LD riding community, and their organized advocacy groups, to accept, the Amtrak Board wants the LD's gone. This in great part was why they enticed Mr. Anderson to come on board. No one can say any airline is pitching their product to the "experiential" flier. They provide transportation- safe and efficient- from A to B.

Now what Mr. Anderson found surprising was the resistance encountered. He first addressed "The Biggest Loser" which was The Chief in view of its 450 miles over a route for which the Class I owner, BNSF, had no further use. We all know how that turned out - the public treasuries collectively reached in to fix those tracks so The Chief could continue running.

The next hurdle LD's face is that the Superliners are near "the end", and if the LD's are to continue, they need be replaced. That's whopperbuks.

What I do envision is that while the goal is to be "rid of 'em", it's not going to happen on any kind of timetable. I'm looking at a model of the few State operated LD's that remain in Australia. This means ignore the private sector luxotrains down there, and look at those in their East that run between the population centers of Brisbane QLD, Sydney NSW, and Melbourne VIC. There are "two a day" with 35yo equipment, and with no particular infrastructure investment being made (HSR? gudday mate). The sets comprise one Sleeper which cannot be booked on line, one Buffet car open to all, and Coaches. This is where I see what Amtrak LD's survive going, with the LDSL cars being readily convertible to Corridor service.

https://youtu.be/ZkpJH7beHtQ

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PullmanCo
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GBN: Nevada State Board of Accountancy gave my late Dad an Emeritus license when he notified them he had sold his practice. He had the right to the title. He had the right to do pro bono external auditor for non profit businesses, on specific short term issues outside the annual audit. (That usually meant the Board thought there was hanky pinky going on, and the DA wanted a first look before he opened a criminal investigation.). I don’t think Dad actually did any cases under that.
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Gilbert B Norman
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While this video doesn't "break ground" around here, it appears objective in nature and scope:

https://youtu.be/dSw7fWCrDk0

The best takeaway is that Mr. Anderson doesn't care about any "experiental" factors, and cares only about a business enterprise that provides transportation - at a profit!

That is why I hold this "talked about" luxotrain proposal will only be just that. Possibly he has visions of contracting out to the private sector, Amtrak's "franchise" to operate these trains, but then, anyone care to ask Ed Ellis about the likelihood of success in that arena?

Time to order up the Adios drumheads, and be ready for A-Day Eve photo lines. This time, however, I'll be content with TV and YouTube news clips.

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palmland
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Looks like Australia doesn’t think LD trains are dead.
Great Southern Luxo train

I suspect your Adios drumhead may be premature, GBN, at least for trains that have the opportunity to be experiential, as Anderson envisions. But certainly trains like the Sunset, Cardinal, and Silver Star need to be redesigned to be more useful as daylight service, (with some segments disappearing).

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Gilbert B Norman
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Here's a quick "primer" on who owns what "Down Under". Hope you are all taking notes as there will be a short quiz later:

Australian Rail Infrastructure

Mr. Palmland, looks like the Australian private sector does not consider the Luxotrain dead. Apparently, the operators have successfully negotiated with the counterparties (take your pick) to operate their trains.

But nowhere does it appear that any governmental level is involved with operating intercity trains beyond the "two a day" Brisbane, QLD, Sydney, NSW, and Melbourne, VIC. While Sleeping Car service is offered on the "Night Trains", such features a 3AM arrival and vacate at Brisbane, and what appears to be an "Amtrak Single level" of OBS:

https://youtu.be/V_38ple09_U

Obviously, I've never been down there (and from those I know who have, "it's not all it's cracked up to be"), but if I were to, as I have a Niece who permanently lives there, I don't think a train ride much beyond her home at Pymble, NSW and Sydney would be on the agenda. Nor would, jumping in the water and getting bitten by a shark like her kids "just can't stay away from".

There's nothing in RPSA 70 or subsequent enacted legislation baring a member Class I and a private operator entering into a bilateral agreement to operate a passenger train - even if such is in competition with Amtrak (the Class I itself, or some "veiled" subsidiary, is barred).

Therefore a private party could come to a bilateral agreement with UP to operate a, say, Denver-Salt Lake City Luxotrain. However, no private operator has stepped up to do so.

Finally, I hold that there will not be an "A-Day massacre" with the LD's, but I believe there is an objective to be "rid of 'em" and still keep funding for infrastructure "where it counts". The Old Lions are dying off either to the grave or to K Street. The "education" could include $ better spent elsewhere, as well as with interference getting the "Frozen" doll to Wally World and "Santa" making "the final mile" by Xmas.

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palmland
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I have no love for Amtrak, so I'd be delighted if another company jumped in to operate the experiential trains. You can bet they would be cleaner, mechanically sound, with good food, drink, and service. All at a price.

After our trip on the Grand Canyon RR operated by Xanterra, I'd certainly vote for them.

 -

 -

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yukon11
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I've thought of a trip on the Grand Canyon but haven't gotten around to it. I'm curious, Mr. Palmland, as to what car you were in. There are 6, including (the top 3) the Observation Dome, Luxury Dome, and Luxury Parlor Car.

I wish there still was a shuttle bus from Williams to the Grand Canyon RR and that the SWC stopped in Williams.

Do they still use cooking oil for fuel? I understand that, if they still do, the train smells like french fries boiling in oil. I hope they have returned to diesel fuel.

Richard

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palmland
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Richard, if they use cooking oil, I sure didn’t smell it. Sounds like someone was looking for a reason to complain. After all you are in a sealed car. And even standing on the rear platform there weren’t any smells.

We were in the rear observation, by request. All sears were assigned and we lucked out with the seats you see in the last photo. No restrictions on when or how long you can stand on the rear platform. What a thrill it was.

And, the weekend we were there Trains magazine was having their steam photo charter. Both engines were steamed up and chuffing around the yard with their old heavyweight coaches.

We had a rental car which was an inexpensive and easy way to get to Williams. It also allowed us to see the other sights in the area.

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yukon11
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https://is.gd/MSqFhh

I guess they thought that the cooking oil was environmentally favorable. That might be debated.

Richard

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palmland
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Interesting, Richard. Personally I prefer the smell of good coal smoke!
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Gilbert B Norman
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Meanwhile, back to the intent of this topic, and hopefully of interest around here beyond us CPA's:

Consolidated Financial Statements

What I feared, but kept to myself, is that the "almost breaking even" loss of $30 or so M, is actually an "EBIDTA" measurement second only to Statement of Cash Flows. This represents an expression of Household Accounting ("Cookie Jar" was the expression I used with my clients).

To arrive at the "touted number", Go the Statements of Operations, identify Loss of $893M, subtract Depreciation of $870, and there is $23, or in the league of the $20.

I'm sorry, but to me Depreciation is just as much an expense as is 49-CFR Account 61-31-67 Locomotive Fuel, for it represents a systematic charging of Expense of funds expended for Capital projects to Expense over the estimated life of the project.

Have fun yanking the Statements apart.

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