Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak financial reporting’

Amtrak Has Reduced Level of Public Information

January 12, 2019

Amtrak is providing fewer statistics to the public regarding the operation of its trains.

In a news brief in the newsletter of the American Association of Passenger Rail Car Owners, Washington reporter Ross Capon said the reduction of information is significant because the missing statistics better show the value of long-distance passenger trains.

Amtrak provides monthly performance reports known as the Route Level Results.

Unlike past reports, the current reports are not longer showing longer shows gross ticket revenue, seat miles, or passenger-miles.

Capon wrote that the passenger-mile (one passenger carried one mile) “best reflects the LD trains’ value.”

He cited as an example the September 2017 report, which indicated that Amtrak’s 15 long-distance trains accounted for 40.1 percent of Amtrak’s passenger-miles in fiscal year 2017.

That information is missing from the September 2018 report.

Capon, a former executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said this has enabled Amtrak executives to get away with claiming that long-distance trains account for only 15 percent of Amtrak ridership.

RPA Hits Amtrak Accounting Practices

August 27, 2018

A rail passenger advocacy group is trying to put Amtrak’s accounting practices back into the spotlight.

The Rail Passengers Association released a white paper last week that concludes that how Amtrak measures and allocates its revenues and costs is “catastrophically flawed” and does the American public a disservice.

RPA is hardly the first critic of Amtrak’s accounting, which has come under fire for years by critics and policy makers.

In the RPA white paper, Amtrak’s bookkeeping practices are said to have four major flaws.

Amtrak is described as allocating costs in a way that inaccurately portrays the economics affecting each part of the system without reporting avoidable costs, as required by law.

It also omits all costs of capital consumption and uses imprecise or inadequate data.

“The upshot is that APT exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system, overstates the costs of expanding it, and trivializes the effects of killing it, because it fails to consider the benefits accruing to the communities it serves,” the report concludes. “In short, it radically undercuts the ability of Congress and Amtrak to plan wisely.”

One practice singled out is allocation of track maintenance costs to routes that do not use the given tracks.

The report also said that some Acela equipment maintenance costs are allocated to non-Acela routes.

Amtrak is said to fail to determine each route’s fuel cost and to report reliable station cost data for stations that the carrier owns or maintains.

The carrier fails to accurately count commuter rail passengers using Amtrak-owned stations, thus overcharging the Amtrak trains that use them.

RPA said Amtrak’s accounting practices make the Northeast Corridor system appear less costly than it is while making long-distance trains appear to cost more than they do.

The funding needs of the Northeast Corridor greatly overshadow those of the rest of the system, where the majority of infrastructure costs are underwritten by Amtrak’s host railroads

This results in the false assumption that eliminating long-distance routes would substantially cut Amtrak’s public funding needs.

GAO Critical of Amtrak’s Financial Reporting

January 8, 2016

The U.S. Government Accountability Office this week was sharply critical of Amtrak’s financial accounting, calling its reporting of financial information “inconsistent and incomplete.”

The GAO said this has hindered Amtrak’s ability to demonstrate the progress it has made since restructuring itself in 2012 into three business lines.

Those business units, the Northeast Corridor, state-supported services and long-distance trains, were expected to improve performance accountability for its performance.

A strategic management system implemented by the long-distance business unit reflects several leading performance management practices, such as linking line-of-business goals and initiatives to corporate-wide strategies, assigning personnel to execute the initiatives, and tracking the results.

However, Amtrak hasn’t implemented that system across its other business units. The GAO said that better reporting, planning and financial information could enhance decision-making at Amtrak

The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, which was created to develop the NEC’s infrastructure needs, has yet to develop criteria for setting the priorities of the projects in its five-year, $17.7 billion capital plan.

The consequences of that, the GAO said, is that Congress and the states lack information to inform their decisions about whether to provide additional funding for those plans.

Along those lines, the GAO said Amtrak has not developed clear information detailing specific costs and activities related to operations for state-supported routes that would be funded by federal money.

Among the recommendations that the GAO made are:
• Prioritizing the adoption of the strategic management system in all lines of business and functional departments.
• Externally reporting how Amtrak’s initiatives meet the goals established under the strategic management system.
• Being consistent in its monthly performance reports and the five-year financial plan to show all Amtrak revenue and expenses by major function for each line of business.
• Ensuring that depreciation expenses are appropriately allocated to the lines of business once underlying capital asset data are determined reliable.
• Delineating specific costs and activities for state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government and communicating that information to Congress, such as part of Amtrak’s annual budget request.

  • Prioritizing capital projects under the Northeast Corridor Commission.