Foote Touts Operating Improvements in STB Letter

CSX CEO James Foot told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week that terminals and line hauling of the carrier are now fluid with velocity and dwell time substantially improved.

Now the railroad is turning its attention to improving local service and yards.

The letter dated Jan. 3 was in response to a request made by the STB last month for CSX to respond to what the Board termed persistent complaints about service from shippers, particularly delays occurring during the last mile of delivery.

In response, Foote said CSX has created a virtuous cycle of faster trains, more efficient yard operations and more on-time originations.

This has meant fewer locomotives and cars needed to handle the same amount of freight. “In short, what you have is a better-run railroad,” Foote wrote.

Foote said CSX managers do not expect to make significant operational changes in 2018.

However, management will continue to fine tune its operations. He cited as an example testing end-to-end trip plans for every carload by the end of March.

The new railroad chief executive said he is committed to listening to customers and communicating with them regularly.

As for that last mile issue, Foot said local service metrics, including car-order fulfillment, currently exceed those metrics posted in 2016.

“ . . . we are targeting enhancements in yards, local service, and efficient switching,” Foote wrote. “Accordingly, we expect ongoing improvement in our local service measurements concurrent with other performance measures.”

Yet Trains magazine on its website quoted an unnamed merchandise shipper who said his company in the eastern United States has been playing whack-a-mole with CSX.

As soon as a service problem is resolved in one area another crops up elsewhere. “We are better in Florida and New York now but issues are [now occurring] in the Carolinas as we speak,” the shipper said. “So I like the new metrics, especially around door-to-door and car fulfillment.”

The magazine quoted another unnamed merchandise shipper who said that it is not seeing the faster, more reliable service that CSX says it’s providing.

“Our cycle times are still longer today than they were a year ago,” the shipper says. “I suspect this may simply be their new normal and longer transit times are something we have to get used to. We’re actually planning to add some cars back into our fleet in the first quarter of 2018 to address this.”

Some shippers said CSX has slashed the frequency of local switching, something that began when Michael Ward was CEO and kicking off a cost-cutting campaign.

“CSX is being run for the benefit of Wall Street now and not Main Street,” one shipper said.

However, some shippers told Trains they are starting to see faster, more efficient service. On the western reaches of the network operations have remained smooth despite changes implemented last month that, among other things, significantly reduced yard operations in Evansville, Indiana, on the route between Chicago and the Southeast.

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