Posts Tagged ‘CSX service metrics’

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.

CSX Changes How it Calculates 3 Service Metrics

August 23, 2017

CSX said this week that it is changing the way that it calculates three key service metrics — train velocity, terminal dwell and cars online.

In a news release, CSX said that the changes will more accurately reflect its operational performance.

The railroad said it will continue its required reporting weekly of EP 724 data to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in the prescribed methodology.

The revised service are being defined as follows:

Train velocity: Revised to include a train’s end-to-end time and accordingly, speed.

The previous definition only counted time on line of road and excluded intermediate dwell time for crew changes, freight car pick-up or set-off, or other work events at an intermediate yard.

The updated definition includes intermediate dwell time, which CSX said will reflect the true speed of a train from origin to destination and help identify opportunities to move trains faster and more reliably from origin to destination.

CSX said the inclusion of additional time-in-train velocity has the effect of reducing speed when compared to the prior methodology.

Terminal dwell: The new definition has been expanded to include all car dwell time encountered on an end-to-end trip.

The previous definition excluded the amount of time a car spent at a terminal during an intermediate work event if it arrived and departed on the same train.

The updated definition includes intermediate car dwell for terminal work events when a car arrives and departs on the same train.

CSX said this change more accurately reflects all time that a car dwells and will help identify opportunities to improve asset utilization.

The inclusion of these additional dwell events has the effect of reducing terminal dwell when compared to the prior methodology, as intermediate dwell on the same train is often less than dwell events on cars that change trains, which reduces overall average dwell time.

Cars on line: The new definition measures the number of active freight rail cars on rail lines operated by CSX.

The previous definition included all cars that were last reported on a line operated by CSX, which counted several categories of inactive freight rail cars, including cars that are being repaired, are in storage, have been sold or are private cars dwelling at a customer location for more than one day.

CSX said the exclusion of these inactive car categories enables focus on movement and utilization of active cars on the system. As inactive cars become active again, they will be included in the active cars online count.

The exclusion of inactive cars has the effect of reducing the number of cars on line when compared to the prior methodology.

CSX has restated 2016 and 2017 train velocity and terminal dwell performance data using the new definitions and is making that data along with 2017 cars online data available on its website.

It noted that the new metrics differ from data reported by other U.S. railroads and are not directly comparable.

STB to Monitor CSX in Wake of Shipper Complaints

July 28, 2017

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has notified CSX that it will closely monitor the railroad’s performance.

In a letter to CSX head E. Hunter Harrison, the STB said it would conduct weekly service calls with senior railroad executives.

The STB said some shippers have lodged informal complaints with the agency about the deterioration of service between April and June.

It was during that period that CSX began implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating philosophy that Harrison has long espoused.

“In particular, shippers have complained that transit times have increased significantly and/or become unpredictable; loaded and empty rail cars sit for days at yards; switching operations have become inconsistent and unreliable; car routings have become circuitous and inefficient; and CSX customer service personnel have been unable to provide meaningful assistance,” the STB wrote.

Congestion has hindered CSX operations at its St. Louis and New Orleans terminals and the railroad’s performance metrics indicate that trains are moving more slowly and cars are spending more time in yards, while the number of cars online has increased.

“We understand that these disruptions have forced a number of rail shippers and their customers to curtail production, temporarily halt operations, and/or utilize other transportation options,” the STB letter said.

The letter went onto cite CSX for not communicating well with it customers, saying that many shippers have been caught off guard by the service changes and didn’t have the lead time required to adjust their supply chains.

Earlier this week, STB officials and senior CSX officials had a meeting to discuss the railroad’s operations. CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the railroad will provide the information the STB has requested.

CSX Service Metrics Were Mixed in June

July 8, 2017

CSX has encountered growing pains in implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating philosophy of its new CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

Trains magazine reported that although average train speed has improved since Harrison took over in March, it fell last month compared to what it was in May.

The magazine reported that terminal dwell time is slightly higher than when Harrison took over with some yards showing significantly higher dwell times than during the last week of May.

“As CSX implements Precision Scheduled Railroading across our network, some variation in performance metrics such as train velocity and terminal dwell are expected,” CSX spokeswoman Laura Phelps said. “CSX will continue to make adjustments as we identify new opportunities to improve asset utilization and control costs, while maintaining a relentless focus on serving our customers.”

She noted that the speed of intermodal and merchandise trains has improved when compared with what it was a year ago.

In the first few months of Harrison’s administration, transit time was down and on-time performance was up due to trains moving faster, stopping at fewer terminals, and cars spending less time in yards.

But in June CSX gave up some of those gains. Intermodal train speed fell nearly 1 mph, to 28 mph and the speed of manifest freights was down to 19.9 mph versus 20.4 mph in May.

Unchanged was the average speed of coal trains, 18.3 mph. Grain was moving  at 17.9 mph versus 18.4 mph in May

The overall system velocity was 21.3 mph compared with 22.2 in May.

Terminal dwell time through late June had risen to 26.6 hours on average versus 23.7 hours in May and 25.1 hours in the second quarter of 2016.

Among the CSX terminals reporting increases in dwell times were  Baltimore; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati; Corbin, Kentucky; Indianapolis; Louisville, Kentucky; Montgomery, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Russell, Kentucky; Toledo, Ohio; Waycross, Georgia; and Willard, Ohio.

On competitor Norfolk Southern, terminal dwell has increased system wide to 26.8 hours, up from 24.7 in May and 23.1 in the second quarter of 2016.

CSX Says On-Time Performance is Up 52%

May 19, 2017

A CSX executive this week touted improving performance metrics over the past two months, including a 52 percent improvement in on-time performance.

“We’re at the beginning of an amazing transformation,” CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Transportation Conference.

Lonegro said train velocity has risen by 14 percent and terminal dwell time has fallen by 11 percent.

On-time originations rose 16 percent to 91.6 percent while on-time arrivals jumped to 87.6 percent from just 57.8 percent.

Lonegro largely credited the improving metrics to new CEO E. Hunter Harrison’s precision scheduled railroad operating philosophy.

Harrison has been at CSX for 10 weeks. “He really has hit the ground running and has begun to implement precision scheduled railroading across our railroad,” Lonegro said.

During his presentation, Lonegro said CSX has become more efficient by hauling the same amount of tonnage on fewer trains.

Although its revenue-ton miles have held steady while the active train count has fallen by 15 percent, Lonegro said that will continue to improve.

He said CSX is creating a train plan that keeps terminals fluid and reduces the need for handling en route.

“Hunter’s philosophy is move the freight as far as you can as fast as you can and touch it as few times as you possibly can,” Lonegro said.

One highly visible change at CSX has been a reduction in hump yards. That is at odds with how CSX has operated.

“At CSX historically we have been a big believer that the most efficient way to class[ify] traffic is through a hump yard,” Lonegro said. “Hunter has totally debunked that.”

CSX has converted hump yards in Toledo, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Hamlet, North Carolina; and Atlanta to flat-switching.

Reports have surfaced that yards in Cumberland, Maryland; and Selkirk, New York, will also lose their humps.

Lonegro said CSX is evaluating its eight remaining hump yards and expects to convert some to flat switching in the second quarter of this year.

In doing this, CSX has changed is operating plan so that traffic bypasses the yards except for cars destined for that location.

CSX will likely have between two and four active humps by the time the evaluation process is completed.

Lonegro also reported that CSX has stored 551 locomotives and parked, scrapped, or returned more than 22,000 freight cars.

He said the operating changes have thus far not prompted shippers to shift their business to Norfolk Southern.

“We’re really not seeing any market share shifts,” Lonegro says, although he acknowledged that there is a potential for service missteps that could anger some shippers.

Nonetheless, he said CSX expects to satisfy customers by providing faster transit times, improved on-time performance, and better cycle times of freight cars.

The better service and lower costs, he said, should enable CSX to grow its business, particularly at the expense of trucks.