Posts Tagged ‘CSX service issues’

Citing Shipper Complaints, STB Chair Seeks CSX Info

October 20, 2021

U.S. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman wants CSX to explain its service issues.

In letter dated Oct. 18, Oberman told CSX CEO James Foote that the agency continued to receive complaints about CSX service issues, including missed switches, unfilled car orders, delayed shipments and an inability to reach customer service representatives at the railroad.

The letter cited a “steady stream of complaints” over the past several months.

 “These complaints are not limited to any particular region on CSX’s network, nor are they confined to shippers of specific commodity groups. Customers have also reported that service problems are sometimes resolved, only to recur weeks or months later,” Oberman wrote.

Oberman’s letter also cited slower train speeds, longer terminal dwell times and a smaller workforce.

The letter can be viewed at https://www.stb.gov/wp-content/uploads/Letter-to-J.-Foote-re-Service-Issues.pdf

CSX Says It Has Improved Service for Chemical Shippers

July 22, 2021

In a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board CSX said it has improved service for chemical and fertilizer shippers.

Arthur Adams Jr., senior vice president of sales and marketing, said CSX has sought the views of those shippers and followed up on their concerns.

In the letter dated July 20, Adams said most shippers did not indicate they had issues with CSX service “and we continue to work directly with those who expressed concerns.”

Adams also said CSX is hiring workers and has made operational adjustments to bypass congested areas and is working with interchange partners to make gateways more fluid.

The letter came in response to a complaint lodged by the The American Chemistry Council, which asked the STB to put CSX under additional oversight due to what one of its members called an “operations meltdown.”

Chemical shippers said they have had service problems with CSX in the Gulf Coast and Southeast, particularly Atlanta; Mobile, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida; and New Orleans.

The issues identified by the shippers included lengthy delays, cars delivered in bunches, cars dwelling for a week or more, and local service failures.

Several shippers have complained about reductions in local service.

Adams acknowledged that CSX needs to do more but its recent STB metrics show the average number of chemical and fertilizer cars held over 48 hours have been cut nearly in half since the first quarter.

CSX Hiring New Conductors, Making Service Changes

June 18, 2021

CSX told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week that it is hiring more conductors.

In a letter to regulators, the carrier said its service is improving due to operational adjustments that have reduced congestion, particularly along the Gulf Coast.

“We’re making significant progress and we recognize there is more to be done,” CEO James Foote said. “We are investing in our workforce and network while engaging frequently with our customers to ensure their freight is reaching consumers in a safe and reliable manner.”

The letter was sent in response to an STB inquiry of all Class 1 railroads seeking information on how they are getting ready to handle increased traffic.

STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman said regulators are responding to shipper complaints about rail service as traffic rebounded from an economic downturn triggered last year by the CVOID-19 pandemic.

STB asked railroads for information on their hiring plans, as well as current crew and locomotive availability.

Some trade associations had singled out CSX as having widespread service issues due to crew shortages.

Foote said CSX was caught short as were other businesses by the fallout from the pandemic.

He acknowledged that railroads have seen a surge in volume and that the supply chain has endured a variety of capacity constraints among various transport modes, shippers and receivers.

“For some traffic we were able to move blocking to fluid yards and bypass constrained yards to provide more direct routing to customers,” Foote wrote. “We also partnered with other railroads to increase hand-off efficiencies and avoid congested interchanges where possible. For example, we moved a number of trains from the crowded New Orleans gateway to the more fluid Memphis gateway.”

Aside from hiring new crew members, CSX said it has stepped up recalling furloughed crews as volume has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

“CSX’s T&E active staffing levels have been brought back to within 4 percent of the pre-pandemic levels (6,851 now versus 7,132 March 2020) and we continue to hire and train employees in effort to get ahead of rising demand,” Foote wrote. “As of June 1, 2021, less than 1 percent of CSX T&E employees remain furloughed. The few places they remain on furlough are in locations with less volume recovery.”

Foote indicated CSX plans to hire nearly 500 new conductors this year. Thus far it has hired almost as many conductors as it did in 2019 and 2020 combined.

Foote said CSX has enough locomotives to handle current and expected demand, with 2,349 active units, 70 stored ready for immediate service, and 400 in longer-term storage.

He said the railroad is working with shipper groups to respond to their members’ service complaints.

“Our review to date has pointed to the Gulf region coupled with a few other isolated spots and most of the identified concerns relate to conditions earlier in the year,” Foote wrote.

CSX intermodal operations have been hindered by slowdowns in loading and unloading of containers at customer facilities, which has created a backlog in intermodal terminals and shortages of both chassis and dray drivers.

To mitigate that situation, CSX has begun using off-site container yards at Memphis and Indianapolis to remove long-dwelling containers from its terminals.

Foote said the CSX reservation system has helped balance incoming loads and train and terminal capacity.

Some adjustments have been made at individual terminals.

“In Chicago, we recently shifted a large portion of international traffic out of Bedford Park into our 59th Street terminal while moving a large portion of domestic traffic from 59th Street to Bedford Park,” Foote said.

Fertilizer Shippers Want More STB Oversight of CSX

June 8, 2021

Fertilizer shippers told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board recently that a shortage of train crews at CSX has led to widespread service problems.

The Fertilizer Institute asked the STB to conduct enhanced oversight of the carrier, which the trade group acknowledged was trying to fix its network.

The letter from the group said the service problems have been ongoing for several months and are hindering the fertilizer industry’s ability to serve its farmer customers.

“In the aftermath of widespread implementation of precision scheduled railroading, it may be that the rail industry is trying to do too much with too little,” the group wrote. “CSX — like other Class I carriers — has reduced its operating costs through a series of measures, including reductions in staff, such as train crews. We have all had some surprises in the past year, but a rebound of shipping volumes should not be one of them.”

CSX has acknowledged having crew shortages and one consequence is that it has been unable to put stored locomotives back in revenue service.

Transit times have lengthened to two to four days longer than usual. The crew shortages have also led to local service in some areas being reduced to once a week from five days per week, and delays to the movements of unit trains.

CSX CEO James Foote in a speech to investors last week said the railroad is seeking to hire and train new crew members as part of its efforts to improve service.

However, he said that all transportation modes are facing more demand than “there is transportation product supply. It’s as simple as that.

“The transportation product is struggling in our case for one reason and one reason only: We’ve been trying to hire since the beginning of the year.”

Foote said CSX in the past year has lost through attrition 7 percent of its train and engine crews and was unable to hire at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing requirements hindered the railroad’s ability to hold training classes for new conductors.

Foote said it takes time to train conductors and CSX won’t cut safety corners to rush new hires to work.

“None of us are happy with the decline in velocity and dwell. We worked really, really hard to get this railroad to be running as well as it was, and we’re going to get this railroad running back not to where it was but even better,” Foote said.

Foote said CSX has plenty of track capacity and can put into service hundreds of locomotives now in storage to meet expected traffic increases.

At the same time, he said CSX is being cautious not to hire too many new employees, which Foote said could cause the carrier to misses a quarter’s financial targets.

“If you want to have a long-term reputation in the marketplace as a quality service provider, you better be there for people when they need you,” Foote said.

CSX OT Performance Continues to Lag

July 19, 2018

Amid the mostly positive financial results that CSX reported this week was a more mixed picture on how the railroad is doing from an operating standpoint.

During the second quarter of 2018, CSX said it showed improvements in operations, but continues to lag in on-time performance.

Compared with the second quarter of 2017, CSX on-time originations fell 2 points, to 83 percent, while on-time arrivals declined by 2 points, to 59 percent for the quarter.

Although trains departed within two hours of schedule more than 90 percent of the time, CSX CEO James Foote told investors and Wall Street analysts this week that that wasn’t good enough.

“We don’t get them across the network as effectively as we should,” Foote said.

CSX create trip plans for freight shipments and monitors the progress of carload and intermodal containers in an effort to identify and prevent service failures.

Foote said compliance with the trip plans is now in the 60 percent range but he wants to see it reach 100 percent.

To get there, Foote said CSX personnel need to recognize service failures such as a car that missed a scheduled connection.

When service failures occur, Foote wants CSX workers to go above and beyond the call of duty to get the car that missed its connection onto the next train.

That will be easier said than done and Foote conceded that the work culture at CSX will need to change to achieve that.

As Foote sees it, more reliable service will result in traffic growth as well as enable CSX to charge higher rates.

During the second quarter of 2018, the average speed of CSX trains rose by 15 percent to 17.4 mph.

Terminal dwell time fell by 10 percent, to 9.7 hours. However, CSX measures terminal dwell time by a different standard than that used by the Association of American Railroads.

Average train length also increased 13 percent compared with the second quarter of 2017.

“Moving all three of these metrics at the same time is no easy task,” Foote said.

CSX Outlines 2018 Service Plan

March 30, 2018

In response to a U.S. Surface Transportation board request for information, CSX CEO James M. Foote has written to the board to tout what he described as the railroad’s recovery from its service issues of 2017.

The letter was in response to a board request to all Class 1 railroads operating in the United States to outline their service plans for the remainder of the year.

The STB said the request for information came in the wake of complaints the board has received from shipper organizations about deteriorating service quality on railroads generally.

In his letter to the STB, Foote thanked the agency for is recent finding that CSX had made  “marked improvement” in its service metrics.

Foote said CSX service metrics in recent weeks have been above 2017 averages “and we’ve achieved record levels for velocity, car order fulfillment and dwell.”

The letter recounted CSX plans in various areas as requested by the STB.

CSX has 2,900 active locomotives and 600 additional locomotives stored and serviceable as needed.

Locomotive power availability has been 99 percent, “demonstrating that our locomotive levels are consistently meeting train service demands,” the letter said.

CSX said that its locomotive fleet is adequate to meet customer demand and it has no plans to acquire locomotives in 2018.

In the area of employee resources, CSX said it has 8,474 train and engine employees along with more than 900 employees on furlough who could be recalled if needed.

Foote said re-crew rates are at a historic low rate of less than 2 percent while crew availability has been 95 percent in recent months. CSX does not expect to increase its T&E headcount this year.

Foote said the precision scheduled railroading model places particular emphasis on the responsibility of local managerial teams to ensure a safe, efficient operation that meets customer needs.

The carrier is training 50 new trainmasters who will be deployed throughout the network to fill vacancies and strengthen field management.

Another focus of precision scheduled railroading, Foote said, is end-to-end transit and meeting customer expectations for the complete movement.

“Local service is a key element of that complete movement, and we have made significant improvements in this critical area with terminal productivity and performance measures at normal, healthy levels across the network,” Foote wrote.

CSX said it has made progress on the development and testing of an end-to-end trip plan compliance measurement that will track cars in all operating circumstances and allow for real-time management and decision-making to maximize delivery as scheduled.

“While the development of this new measure is under way, customers continue to have readily available access to CSX capabilities and performance via ShipCSX, customized to that shipper’s freight needs and patterns,” Foote wrote. “All customers who use ShipCSX currently have access to the trip plan for a given car in scheduled service and can view this information to plan, ship, and trace their shipments. Our online tools allow customers to monitor their service schedules, provide on-demand railcar tracking with an estimated time of arrival, as well as view planned and historical transits that can be quickly analyzed for transit performance and exceptions.”

Foote told the STB that CSX expects total traffic growth in 2018 to be flat when compared with last year.

He said thus far in 2018, traffic has been what the company expected with the exception of higher export coal demand driven by global market conditions.

Foote pledged to continue talking with its customers, saying he has met with shippers at the National Freight Transportation Association Conference and that the railroad’s sales and marketing staff regularly attend customer forums to provide updates and receive customer feedback.

“Our Customer Service personnel address customer concerns when needed to supplement the direct outreach channels of local operations and sales and marketing,” Foote wrote. “We also communicate with our customers through the electronic platforms of ShipCSX, Service Advisories, and Intermodal Fast Facts.”

In regards to capacity constraints, CSX argued that its network and terminals are fluid.

“We have effectively delivered service to our customers through extended winter conditions, and we are well-prepared to handle the seasonal rise in volumes during the second quarter,”
Foote wrote.

He also cited working with other railroads to create plans for interchange and blocking in and outside of Chicago to improve interline connections.

“Whenever practicable, we re-route traffic through less-congested interchange locations and assemble blocks of traffic for destinations further into our respective networks—thus reducing congestion and overall transit time,” Foote said.

He said that with intermodal demand rising across the industry there has been longer container dwell times in terminals.

“To ensure ongoing terminal fluidity and support asset utilization that benefits both CSX and customers, we have adjusted intermodal terminal storage policies and are working with customers to more effectively align terminal capacity with trucking operations,” Foote wrote.

Another Shipper Group Unhappy With Railroads

March 27, 2018

A shipper group representing fertilizer producers has joined a growing chorus of customers that is giving the U.S. Surface Transportation Board an earful about service issues.

“Rail service challenges have been ongoing and increasingly pervasive,” wrote Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute, in a letter posted on the STB website.

Although Jahn mentioned CSX, he went on to say the carrier, which underwent major operational changes in 2017, is not the only problem spot for his members.

If anything, Jahn said, CSX service has improved recently. But fertilizer produces continue to experience “serious service disruptions” when shipping on Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

“Unfortunately, these service challenges are becoming increasingly pervasive,” Jahn wrote.

Some railroad industry analysts say service problems are a missed opportunity for railroad companies during a time when truck capacity is limited. Instead, carload freight volumes have been falling this year.

“This isn’t a crisis — but could lead to a gigantic missed market share opportunity,” Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting said in an interview with Trains magazine.

STB Ending CSX Weekly Service Reports

March 22, 2018

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has decided to stop requiring CSX to provide weekly service updates.

The Board, citing service improvements at CSX, said the reports will end effective April 1.

“We recognize that CSX Transportation has shown a marked improvement in its service metrics since the serious service disruptions that occurred throughout last summer and into the fall,” Chairman Ann Begeman and Vice Chairman Deb Miller said in a letter to CSX CEO James M. Foote.

After service issues arose last summer, the STB began requiring the reports last August. However, CSX will, along with other Class 1 railroads be required to provide the STB with a service outlook for the rest of the year.

That request was made this week following the receipt of letters from grain shippers and automakers that complained about slow and erratic service.

The STB said performance metrics at BNSF, CSX, and Kansas City Southern have held steady or improved but the performances of Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific have deteriorated.

Shippers Perspective on CSX Service Woes

March 13, 2018

We often refer to a railroad’s customers as shippers as though they are a monolithic group.

They are in the sense that all of them pay a railroad to transport something, whether it be coal, trailers, containers, automobiles, scrap metal, chemicals or grain, to name a few.

But the interests of shippers of new automobile are not necessarily the same as those who ship coal.

Nor are all shippers equally suited to get CSX or any other railroad to pay attention to their gripes and complaints.

Some shippers are big enough to get a CSX executive to return their phone calls, but others might wait days, weeks or months to hear from the railroad if they hear anything at all.

The most vulnerable shippers are those who consider themselves captive to a railroad.

What constitutes a captive shipper is a subject of debate. A railroad might argue that all shippers have alternatives and it is a matter of their willingness to use them.

Shippers would say that some of those alternatives are impractical and/or too expensive.

CSX’s top management recently made the case at a meeting of investors that it has made great strides toward providing not just better, but excellent service for its shippers.

The late E. Hunter Harrison used every opportunity he could to say that precision scheduled railroading would result in better service for shippers.

I recently ran across an op ed column on the website of Railway Age written by Ann Warner, a spokesperson for the Freight Rail Customer Alliance, which represents more than 3,500 manufacturing, chemical and agriculture companies, electric utilities and alternative fuel companies.

As Warner sees it, CSX is more interested in pleasing shareholders than its shippers.

As evidence she cited the company’s $5 billion stock buyback program, noting that this is more than double what CSX spends on capital investments every year.

While agreeing that CSX needs to make a decent return on the investment made by its shareholders, Warner said that shippers and rail labor interests find themselves having something in common.

“CSX’s problems have become so big that what is bad for CSX’s customers and the country generally has also become bad for CSX’s employees. And CSX is just a more extreme version of what is happening at other railroads as they, too, pursue the holy grail of operating ratio reductions,” Warner wrote.

In reading Warner’s column I was reminded of how Harrison used to dismiss complaints from shipper organizations as little more than a front for long-standing arguments to re-regulate the railroad industry. There appears to be some truth in that.

Warner made it clear that many shippers believe the current regulatory scheme isn’t working for them.

In particular, she noted that federal law requires that rates for rail-dependent shippers must be reasonable.

When a shipper believes its rates are not reasonable it can complain to the Surface Transportation Board. Yet Warner finds the STB’s stand-alone cost test to be impractical.

“SAC cases are long and expensive, and their record of success is spotty at best. Large chemical companies like DuPont have devoted years and millions of dollars to bring SAC cases, only to have little or nothing to show for their efforts. Electric utilities have achieved a more mixed record. However, most shippers cannot even think of bringing a SAC case because of the expense.”

Other rate abuse remedies exist, but Warner said they are not viable.

Warner also was critical of the STB’s response to the CSX service problems of last year.

“In response to shipper complaints about CSX, the Board required some reporting, convened a public listening session, scheduled weekly status calls (which are not made public), and relied on its Office of Public Assistance, which under the circumstances has done a good job where it can,” she wrote.

“More telling is what the Board has not done: There have been no penalties or other sanctions, no order to show cause, and no directive to avoid personnel cuts or other operational changes.”

It is worth reading Warner’s column if for no other reason than because it provides a shipper’s perspective on the railroad industry. You can find it at: https://www.railwayage.com/news/csx-actions-add-shipper-woes/

Warner didn’t say much about what her employer wants done. She said rail-dependent shippers welcome the opportunity to work with rail labor “to help get the nation’s railroads, particularly CSX, back on the right track.”

What that would entail she didn’t say. It is one thing to identify a problem, but quite another to implement the solution.

Comments from shippers must be read with the same degree of skepticism that comments made by railroad executives also must be read. Both are trying to get the world to accept how they project themselves and neither is necessarily what they say that they are.

Shippers and railroads are alike in those both seek to maximize their own financial gain, sometimes at the expense of someone with whom they do business.

The interests of shippers and railroads will inevitably conflict and each will do whatever it can to influence those who have the authority to address those conflicts.

Truth be told, some members of Warner’s organization probably have their own customers who complain about the service they receive.

Caught in the middle are regulators and policy makers who would rather not get caught in the back and forth that exists in commerce.

And yet that is what they are appointed to do. Perhaps if no one is satisfied with the regulatory framework and how it operates then maybe they are doing something right by not favoring one party too much.

CSX Shipper Complaints to STB Dropping

February 16, 2018

Even as some CSX shippers continue to be disgruntled with the service they are receiving, other railroad customers are either finding their service satisfactory or have given up complaining about it.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said that shipper complaints about CSX service have dropped and an STB member attributes that to improved service.

Acting STB Chairman Ann Begeman made that observation in a letter sent to the American Chemistry Council, saying the Board has received “very few calls” regarding CSX service in the past few weeks

The Chemistry Council had earlier this week released findings of a survey of its members that many of them still are receiving inconsistent service, forcing some to curtail production and/or rely more on truck transportation.

CSX CEO James M. Foote met with Begeman on Feb. 1 to discuss CSX service matters and the Board has indicated it will continue to review weekly reports the carriers has been filing since last August.

However, the STB may modify its oversight as soon as April. The STB ramped up its oversight of CSX after service issues became rampant last summer after the railroad moved to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

The STB might be willing to roll back some of the reporting on performance metrics that it has required of CSX since last summer.

In her letter to the Chemical trade group, Begeman urged shippers who have experienced problems to contact the STB so the problems can be addressed.