STB Summons Class 1 CEOs to Talk Service Issues

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board will conduct public hearings on April 26-27 to discuss what it termed “urgent” service issues facing the nation’s freight rail network.

Regulators ordered high-ranking executives from BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific to appear at the hearings.

Executives of Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern were also invited to address regulators.

Also expected to appear are representatives of other railroads, shippers, railroad labor unions, and other interested parties.

In a statement the STB said it has received numerous complaints in recent weeks from shippers and others about “inconsistent and unreliable” freight service.

The STB statement quoted STB Chair Martin Oberman as blaming the service issues on the precision scheduled railroading operating model, an obsessive desire to lower operating ratios and drastic workforce reductions.

“During my time on the Board, I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers,” Oberman said. “Part of that strategy has involved cutting their workforce to the bare bones in order to reduce costs.”

Oberman’s statement noted that Class I railroads have collectively reduced their workforce by 29 percent or 45,000 employees.

The statement also said that such key performance metrics as terminal dwell time and average train speed have declined in the past few months.

For their part, the Class 1 railroads have attributed the service issues to crew shortages, which they say are rooted in difficulties they are having in retaining employees in a tight job market.

The railroads have said those issues are also affecting numerous other industries.

In his statement, Oberman said regulators will explore not just how the situation got to where it is but also what can be done to resolve it.

This will include exploring how regulators can use their authority to implement measures to address emergencies, increase transparency, and promote reliable service.

The hearings will be open to the public in person and through the STB’s website.

Those wishing to speak should notify the STB by April 14. Written testimony is optional but should be submitted by April 22.

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