Posts Tagged ‘CSX service metrics’

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.

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CSX Touts Improving Service Metrics

February 9, 2018

In its latest report to the U.S. Surface Transportation board, CSX continued to trumpet its service metrics, saying that is operating better than it was a year ago.

In the report dated Feb. 6, CSX said on-time performance has averaged 75 percent so far this year, well above the 61 percent posted in the first quarter of 2017

Average velocity for January 2018 was 18 miles per hour, up 19 percent from the 2017 average of 15.1 mph. January’s average terminal dwell of 10.5 hours was 7 percent below 2017 levels.

The carrier said it sidelined 139 road locomotives last month “in concert with network velocity improvement.”

CSX has 2,886 active road locomotives, a decline of 482 units from last year’s average.

At the same time, CSX said it had 8,509 crew members in service last week, down 9 percent from the average of 9,365 in 2017.

The report said its car-order fulfillment rate is averaging 99 percent so far this year. The percentage of cars pulled or placed at customer locations based on daily customer requests, is 84 percent this year, down from 87 percent in 2017.

CSX said it is receiving an average of 236 problem logs per day, with most of the complaints about delayed cars. It averaged 284 problem logs per day last year, which peaked at 570 per day last summer.

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.

Some Shippers Question Value of Railroad Metrics

October 30, 2017

When it comes to the service metrics that CSX has been providing the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the value of that data depends on who is reading it.

During a U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing earlier this month, CSX said that it is now operating as well as or better than it did in 2016 and it has the numbers to prove.

The carrier cited statistics on declining terminal dwell time and an increase in average train speed.

CSX is not the only railroad that tracks those things. Many railroads use terminal dwell time and average train speed as a way of measuring how well they are doing.

Such numbers are given prominence in quarterly and annual reports because they are said to indicate how efficient and fluid that a railroad is.

That is a railroad perspective. Some shippers, though, say that what matters to CSX doesn’t matter as much to them.

Bruce Ridley, a vice president with Packaging Corporation of America, wrote to the STB last week to say that on-time arrivals, re-crew rates, terminal dwell times, and car-order fulfillment figures are “misleading metrics in CSX’s weekly reports to the Surface Transportation Board.”

PCA, one of the nation’s largest producers of container board and corrugated packaging, argues that on-time figures measure yard-to-yard performance of road trains and do not include local service.

“Even at 64 percent, which is dismal for any supply chain, it can be expected to be much worse if the first and last miles are considered,” Ridley wrote to the STB.

As for re-crew statistics, Ridley said they can be misleading because they do not appear to count a train that died and did not get a new crew right away because no crew was available.

An analysis published last week on the Trains magazine website said that Ridley’s point is similar to one that other shippers have made about service metrics publicized by CSX and the Association of American Railroads. Shippers say those metrics do not necessarily reflect the service that rail customers actually experience.

Some railroad executives recognize this. NS CEO James Squires noted last May that there is a difference between network performance and customer service.

Squires said that network performance measures — like average train speeds and terminal dwell time — may be important to railroad management, but customers have their own set of metrics that they value.

“What we’re trying to do with our customers is measure performance in the entire supply chain,” Squires said. “That’s different than merely measuring terminal-to-terminal train performance.”

Trains reported that Canadian National has taken this approach since 2010, after it noticed that its operating metrics, which were among the best in the railroad industry, didn’t necessarily match the service that shippers were receiving.

Some have said that trip-plan compliance should be the key measuring stick when it comes to service.

“Customers really only care about the first and last mile, pick up and drop-off on time; [it] doesn’t matter so much [what happens] in between,” said Linda Bauer Darr, who heads the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Bauer Darr said short lines and regional railroads need to work with their Class I railroad connections to do a better job of using data and presenting meaningful, accurate information to shippers in real time.

AAR head Ed Hamberger said during the STB’s CSX hearing that performance metrics need to be retooled, but he has yet to say how.

In his letter to the STB, Ridley raised doubts about whether terminal dwell figures for Avon Yard near Indianapolis actually have improved. He said some of his company’s cars have sat in Avon for seven to 14 days.

What PCA wants the STB to do is help resolve ongoing car-supply issues by measuring how many cars were ordered, how many were delivered, and how many were loaded.

Ridley said this would be more accurate and allow CSX to identify shippers who are ordering more cars than they need.

CSX Says it Continues to Make Progress

October 12, 2017

In its latest report to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, CSX said that “network performance has recovered and is continuing to improve.”

CSX said dwell time is now lower than 2016 as well as the averages for the first and second quarters of this year.

“Velocity performance is at its best level since June, with both velocity and transit on a similar trend to April 2017’s strong progression. Terminal dwell has declined to 10.7 hours, also a 4 percent improvement from [the prior] week,” CSX said.

It said that the average velocity was 15.7 mph, up 4 percent from the prior week. Crew and power resource levels remain matched to demand and the Right Car Right Train program is stable.

The report said the railroad’s hump yards are performing reliably and efficiently and as a result  customer problem logs have returned to normal levels as performance has improved.

CSX also said that interchange volumes and performance are steady. Western terminals have recovered; secondary congestion has recovered as well. Empty car fulfillment is stable; demand is down modestly following a month-end surge. Local pull and place performance is stable.

CSX Reports Continued Service Improvements

October 6, 2017

CSX told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week that transit times for merchandise carloads have returned to a normal range.

In its weekly report, the railroad said that trains are moving faster and freight cars are spending less time in yards than was the case a year ago.

The report cited terminal dwell that is now lower than the full-year average for 2016 while saying that average train speed has climbed slowly for six weeks and also is exceeding the 2016 average.

CSX said that customer backlogs are down more than 50 percent when compared to last summer and now represent less than 1 percent of daily originations and less than 0.2 percent of active cars online.

However, the report also noted that at 67 percent on-time arrivals are about the same as they were in 2016.

That’s important because the precision scheduled railroading model being implemented at CSX emphasizes block-swapping.

Blocks of cars that miss their connection could be delayed up to 24 hours.

In seeking to put a positive spin on the report, CSX said that its “significant operating improvements during [the] third quarter” will put it on “a solid foundation for fall peak” customer demands.

CSX Claims Shorter Dwell Times in STB Report

August 30, 2017

In its latest report to the Surface Transportation Board CSX said it has made progress in reducing dwell time in terminals even as on-time performance has continued to decline.

The letter from CEO E. Hunter Harrison noted that the resumption of hump operations at Avon Yard near Indianapolis has enabled the railroad’s western terminals to become more fluid.

Secondary congestion that had overflowed from Avon and other yards has been contained. CSX said that its terminal dwell time declined to an average of 11.8 hours in the week ending Aug. 25, down from a peak of 13.2 hours five weeks ago.

In its six western terminals, CSX said dwell time averaged 13.7 hours last week, down from a peak of 22.1 hours five weeks ago.

CSX said its on-time originations fell to 64 percent, down from 70 percent a week ago and 87 percent in the last week of June. On-time arrivals followed suit, declining to 51 percent from 55 percent last week.

Average train speed was 13.2 mph, measured using a new standard that CSX recently adopted. That’s 15 percent slower than the average speed in the last week of June and below historic averages for this time of year.

However, some shippers are saying that CSX service remains erratic.

“We have not seen evidence that overall service is improving,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council.

In its latest report to the STB, CSX said it has undertaken a number of steps, including sending during the past three weeks commercial personnel to “challenged” field locations to improve communications with customers, particularly those who have complained about CSX’s service.

Harrison said the reactivation of the hump at Avon Yard leaves the railroad with five hump yards, adding that the goal is to find the right balance of hump and flat switching yards to optimize efficiency.

“We are intensely focused on maintaining a balanced train network, reducing freight transit time by minimizing crew handlings, and scheduling each car and train in a manner that delivers optimal results for our customers,” Harrison wrote in the CSX report.

Earlier this year, CSX ended hump operations at yards in Atlanta; Hamlet, North Carolina; Stanley (Toledo), Ohio; Cumberland, Maryland; Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky.

CSX Contends Its Service Metrics Are Improving

August 25, 2017

Information provided by CSX to the Surface Transportation Board this week show just how far its service has fallen since spring but also indicates that the railroad is taking steps to address that.

Train on-time arrivals fell from a record 88 percent in May to 55 percent during the past four weeks. More than a quarter of all carloads failed to make the right train as scheduled, which compounded the delays.

Two derailments, including one at Hydman, Pennsylvania, didn’t help matters, but the statistics show that the operational problems started in mid July as CSX began in earnest to implement major operational changes in a shift toward the precision scheduled railroading model brought in by new CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

The railroad has reversed one change it imposed by resuming hump operations at Avon Yard west of Indianapolis.

CSX reopened the hump at Avon Yard in Indianapolis last week to improve service and prevent congestion at secondary yards. “We might have made a mistake there,” by shutting down the hump, Harrison told The Wall Street Journal.

Reactivating Avon and some other changes reduced terminal dwell time at five terminals in the western regions of the CSX network. Cars spent 33 hours in those terminals last week on average, down from a peak of nearly 53 hours two weeks ago.

CSX has also delayed plans to close hump operations at Selkirk Yard in New York in favor of flat switching.

Last Monday, CSX told the STB that its network metrics have improved in recent weeks. Average train speed is up slightly and overall terminal dwell is down.

The STB has fielded a rash of shipper complaints about CSX service and in response has ordered the carrier to provide more detailed information about it performance.

Some shippers have said erratic service from CSX has triggered plant shutdowns and production slowdowns while forcing them to diverting some shipments to trucks.

In its latest report to the STB, CSX management said it is still seeking a balance between hump yards and flat-switching terminals.

CSX said the “absolute number of humps [is] not ‘good’ or ‘bad’; rather, a different configuration of handling traffic.”

The railroad has sent customer service personnel to locations with significant service problems, including Columbus, Ohio; Russell, Kentucky; Indianapolis; and Memphis, Tennessee.

It also said many of the figures being sought by the STB, including local service metrics and figures for train origination and arrival, do not necessarily mesh with what’s important in precision scheduled railroading.

It cited the example of “holding a train’s origination to allow additional cars to reach a customer on time. [this] would hinder train origination and arrival metrics, but provide better service to the customer.”

CSX also argues that it has an adequate number of locomotives and crews to handle its current traffic levels.

The motive power fleet includes 3,275 units which is 488 units down from the first-quarter average. Some stored locomotives have been removed from storage to handle an increase in coal traffic.

In its report, CSX said the percentage of trains requiring re-crews is at historically low levels and its car order fulfillment statistics are a case study in what happens when service quality deteriorates.

Customers order more cars than they need, hoping that what is delivered is close to the actual number needed. CSX said orders rose 40 percent in the third quarter compared with the first quarter.