PSR as Seen From a Large Intermodal Shipper’s View

J.B. Hunt is a major trucking company that also ships a lot of trailers and containers by rail.

So its management takes a special interest in developments involving railroad operating practices because Hunt’s financial well being is tied to that.

During a recent transportation conference, officials with the trucking company said its experience with railroads implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating model have been a “mixed bag.”

Darren Field, the company’s executive vice president for intermodal, described himself as a supporter of PSR so long as Hunt can continue to communicate well with the railroads implementing that plan.

“One of the biggest challenges for our customers over the past many years has been the inconsistent service, so if the implementation of PSR will mean a higher quality service, we’re certainly in support of it,” Field said.

He said Hunt, like the railroads implementing PSR, is always seeking to better manage its assets.

What Field hasn’t liked has been “a kind of brute force of PSR” that does not communicate well with customers.

He was referencing the implementation of PSR by CSX in 2017, something Field called a disaster.

Many railroad industry analysts have concluded that CSX tried to implement PSR too quickly and the upheaval in operating practices caused severe service quality deterioration.

“We were receiving phone calls [from customers] that said: ‘We’re cancelling a service tomorrow,’” Field said.

Since then service quality at CSX has improved. Field said that carrier and Norfolk Southern are now providing higher quality service than they did a year ago, but he is unsure if it is due to improved operations or because of lower traffic volumes.

“So far they’ve had better service, but I think they have to sustain better service during a market of tightening truckload capacity and we really haven’t experienced that so far,” Field said.

It also takes time for customers to adjust to changes in railroad operating practices brought about by PSR.

“PSR’s tricky. “It’s come on very fast and it does require all of us to plan and communicate better,” Field said.

In some cases, he said, the changes in how railroads are operating has meant that Hunt and its customers have had to change the way they operate.

“We’re all working to clear the terminals faster, we don’t want to have destination terminal dwell,” Field said. “We want to work within the railroads’ physical plant so that we can actually execute more business inside their same asset base.”

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