Posts Tagged ‘CSX service issues’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Chemical Industry Critical of CSX Service

February 13, 2018

A chemical industry trade group told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last week that its members continue to experience significant service disruptions on CSX.

In a letter to the STB, Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, said that companies have in the past two months been forced to curtail production or divert shipments to truck in order to prevent shutdowns.

“While many companies report that service had improved since the summer/fall of last year, it is clear that service is still not where it needs to be,” Dooley wrote.

The letter to the STB was based on a survey the trade group conducted of its members in December and January.

Dooley said that some members have seen improvements since last summer but overall service has not returned to normal.

“While CSX’s January 13 letter to the Board notes ‘a remarkable rate of positive change’ and cites selected service metrics that exceed 2016 levels, few benefits of CSX’s operational changes have actually been realized by its customers,” Dooley wrote. “In fact, the vast majority of ACC member responses indicate that current CSX service is worse than it was prior to the implementation of precision railroading.”

Dooley said that many of his group’s members fear that paying more for less reflects a “new normal” for CSX service.

Examples of shoddy service cited in the letter included a Midwest plant reducing production  by 90 percent due to erratic deliveries of raw material.

Another company said it shifted to trucks to prevent plant shutdowns in the Northeast due to a bad weather and CSX delays.

A Southeastern company said local switching delays and route changes have increased transit times by four or five days.

In a related vein, a Northeast shipper said a shipment that normally takes 10 days took 55 days due to multiple delays on CSX.

Another shipper said loaded cars have sat in yards for a week or more while some said they have seen reduced local service and higher car demurrage and switching fees.

CSX has been arguing for the past year that once it works out its operating changes that shippers will benefit from faster and more reliable service.

In response to the chemical association letter, CSX said in a statement that it “consistently strives to meet customer expectations and we believe that concerns about our service can best be resolved on a customer-by-customer basis and by focusing on a customer’s individual needs.”

The statement also restated a report that railroad made to the STB recently that cited five consecutive months of improvement in train velocity and dwell time.

Foote Touts Operating Improvements in STB Letter

January 5, 2018

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.

STB Wants More CSX Service Information

December 16, 2017

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board is taking a renewed interest in CSX operations.

The STB wrote to the railroad on Thursday to ask its managers for a meeting with board members and requested that they provide a detailed update on the ongoing implementation of its precision scheduled railroading model.

In the letter, the STB asked for information concerning the current state of the CSX network and key performance measures in light of continued reports regarding service issues.

In its reports to the STB, CSX has contended that operational improvements have been accelerating, with average train speed up 19 percent and terminal dwell time down 13 percent when compared with the average for 2016.

In the past two weeks, on-time performance has improved and now stands above last year’s levels, but has not yet topped the 81-percent level recorded in the second quarter.

But that hasn’t been enough to satisfy some shippers.

“The board continues to hear concerns related to CSX service challenges or inadequate service, particularly about unsatisfactory ‘last mile’ performance and lack of communication regarding changes to service before they occur,” commissioners Ann Begeman and Deb Miller wrote to CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

The STB sought to encourage CSX to continue to participate in the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office, which helps smooth railroad traffic through the nation’s busiest rail gateway.

That was apparently in response to Harrison saying in October that he was considering pulling out of the CTCO, which the Class I railroads and terminal lines use to monitor such things as yard car inventories, maintenance-of-way planning, weather alerts and service priorities.

“While we recognize that several key performance measures have shown noticeable improvement in recent weeks, other metrics, such as car order fulfillment and local service performance, have lagged when compared to 2016 and first quarter 2017,” they wrote.

The STB also wants CSX to explain its lack of progress in improving car-order fulfillment, including why it can’t match or exceed local service performance from 2016.

Also on the STB’s list is a request for information on the progress the railroad has made on developing trip plans for individual carloads, as well as efforts to improve communication with shippers.

CSX Executive in Presentation Lauds Precision Scheduled Railroading, Explains How it is Benefiting Shippers

December 5, 2017

A CSX executive gave a rosy assessment of the benefits of the precision scheduled railroading model during a speech at the RailTrends 2017 conference last week.

Michael Rutherford, CSX vice president of industrial products, said carload customers are benefiting from faster and more dependable service.

Although the closing of hump operations at eight CSX yards has received much publicity, Rutherford said a less visible change has been the practice of blocking cars closer to their origination and pushing them further across the network before they are flat-switched or classified in a hump yard.

“That’s how you get the speed and reliability,” he said. “Hump yards make sense where they make sense. They just don’t make sense everywhere.”

Rutherford said running cars through hump yards was adding two or more days to their transit time and cars were sometimes humped more that once.

Since implementing the precision scheduled railroading model, Rutherford said, CSX has reduced the average merchandise transit time from just under seven days to just under six days by early November.

Rutherford cited an example of faster transit times between Buffalo and Syracuse, two New York cities located 150 miles apart.

Previously, freight traveling from Buffalo to Syracuse went through Syracuse to Selkirk Yard near Albany to be classified. It was then sent back west to Syracuse.

“We used to have to boomerang the car over Selkirk,” Rutherford says. “As a result, the actual route miles were three times the actual distance from Buffalo to Syracuse.”

Today an eastbound train picks up a block of Syracuse cars in Buffalo and drops them off in Syracuse, which Rutherford said is a faster, more reliable service that costs less.

Although many CSX shippers prefer to see their cars move in unit trains because they view that as more reliable than regular merchandise service, Rutherford said that where possible CSX is shifting unit train business into the merchandise network as a way to streamline service.

Rutherford said the downside to unit trains is the extra time expended in building and unloading them, which adds expense by requiring the use of more freight cars.

Metal shipped for a customer in a unit train would require 10 days to load, move from origin to destination, and unload, Rutherford said. But smaller blocks of carloads moving in daily merchandise service has reduced the moves to two days and the shipper is able to use 10 to 15 percent fewer cars to handle the same traffic

Those now surplus cars are being re-assigned to other shippers to carry other freight.

Rutherford acknowledged that CSX is seeking to change the behavior of its shippers by encouraging them to order only the number of cars they need and to unload their shipments more quickly.

When shippers order extra cars, those cause congestion. Precision scheduled railroading seeks to keep rolling stock moving along.

“The change has been transformative,” he said, citing performance measures of reduced terminal dwell time and faster average train speed.

However, Trains magazine observed that Rutherford did not say that CSX’s on-time performance remains lodged at its 2016 level with about a third of its trains arriving late.

Now did he acknowledge that some shippers still believe service is subpar or deteriorating.