Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pacific Surfliner budget breakdown

LOSSAN has released a budget presentation from Amtrak which, for the first time that I’m aware of, publicly shows a breakdown of the Surfliner’s budgeted revenues and expenses. For us transit geeks, this is a welcome insight into the busiest corridor service outside of the NEC.

Using the provided Train Fuel and Power figures for the previous fiscal year (FY15) and the approximate number of train miles ran by the Surfliner (1.56 million), we have a fuel expense of $7.55 per train mile, which divides by Amtrak’s budgeted $3.23/gallon (September 2015 Monthly Performance Report) to give us an average fuel consumption of 2.34 gallons per train mile. That’s right where we’d expect it to be based on Metrolink/Coaster performance (which is a bit higher consumption level) and Amtrak’s own reported fleet average fuel consumption of 2.3 gallons per train mile. This does, of course, assume that Amtrak’s average fuel price is what the Surfliner’s fuel is bought at.

While there’s nothing too major about a confirmation of average figures, it’s nice to have because it validates all calculations and critiques based upon those figures. There's always the worry in the back of one’s mind that things are actually quite off from the average figures and that the Surfliner actually has a significantly higher fuel consumption (if single level sets dropped the average down) or significantly lower (if long distance trains brought it up). As it is, we can say with confidence that the Surfliner would, for example, trim a significant amount of time from the schedule while also burning nearly half a million gallons less diesel by using modern rolling stock like the Class 222 Meridian (though I believe EMD and Siemens both claim that they will have similar fuel consumption with the F125 and Charger).

The host railroad fees are a bit interesting. At an average of $6.62 per train mile, I’m wondering who is overcharging Amtrak. The overall system average is somewhere just south of $5 per train mile and Metrolink is receiving $4.33 per train mile. Or rather, they would be if we ignored revenues from the long distance trains, though only the Coast Starlight should contribute much of anything. That means that we’re looking at an average of $8.72 for the remaining miles. My suspicion is that NCTD is responsible for the high charges; per the NCTD budget they receive approximately $9.5 million a year in revenue on the Coastal Rail right of way while expending $4.3 million to maintain it. Some of this money comes from Metrolink, some from BNSF, and a probably minuscule amount from Waco’s Pacific Sun Railway, but a decent chunk will be coming from Amtrak.

Based on the motor coach figures presented in this budget, and comparing with the connecting bus schedules in the Pacific Surfliner timetable, we get an average cost of $3.19 per scheduled bus mile. Since that seemed a bit low at first, and I thought possibly due to some cost-sharing between the Capitol Corridor and Surfliner that I was unaware of for the Santa Barbara to Oakland buses, I also looked at the Capitol Corridor’s budget and scheduled bus connections: $3.23 per mile and a combined average expense of $3.21 per scheduled bus mile. Some additional research shows that I needn’t have fretted: It’s quite comparable to the figures reported by Rimrock, Capital Trailways, and Greyhound.

As I have said repeatedly, bus connections are the best and most cost-effective ways of feeding additional riders into the system and demonstrating support for expansion. After all, how much more cost-effective can you get than completely profitable? Yet there is a dearth of bus routes outside of California and it is rare to see a route study which includes any bus connection, much less a wealth of them such as California has. That being said, while I doubt anyone at Amtrak is reading my blog or twitter feed, there have been a number of new bus routes added over the past year, including one announced the other week connecting the Empire Builder to Rochester, MN, which may indicate that they’re beginning to understand just how useful, and profitable, bus connections are.

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