Posts Tagged ‘CSX’

Did They Know the Train Was There?

November 20, 2017

CSX westbound stack train Q015 was coming into Kent so I made my way to an overlook on the dam on the Cuyahoga River that has since been transformed into a giant water fountain.

My plan was to get the train passing the former Erie Railroad station located on the bluff above the river.

It would be nothing special, nothing I had not done before. What is different is that since I last made an image here of CSX and the Erie depot the latter has been transformed into an Italian restaurant named Treno.

As I waited for the Q015 I noticed a couple on the observation deck having photographs made.

They must have heard the train passing by. But it was just so much noise in the city. They had other things to do than watch a train pass by.

On second thought, maybe one of them is a rail buff and wanted a photograph made of the couple with a passing train.

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Where the Capitol Limited Once Stopped

November 17, 2017

Photographs that are a mere five years old don’t necessarily qualify as being “oldies,” but this March 2012 image shows the end of something that had been associated with Akron for 62 years.

In early 2012, workers came through Akron to lower the tracks of the CSX New Castle Subdivision as part of a clearance project associated with development of the National Gateway.

This included removing the last section of umbrella shed on the platform to the west of the former station concourse.

It is not clear why a portion of the umbrella shed was left in place. Perhaps it was to serve as a monument to what this building had once been.

The last intercity passenger train to stop at this location was Baltimore & Ohio No. 5, the Capitol Limited, which pulled away at 2:37 a.m. on May 1, 1971.

The next day, Akron no longer had intercity rail passenger service for the first time in more than 100 years.

The December 2017 issue of the Akron Railroad Club eBulletin will have a feature about the final decade of B&O passenger service in Akron.

CSX Reportedly Lays Off Willard Workers

November 17, 2017

An online report this week said that CSX has furloughed all of the laborers at Willard Yard who put fuel, sand and water in locomotives and clean the cabs. There were also layoffs in the car shop.

The report said this leaves 20 employees in the car shop and that CSX management is seeking to have electricians and machinist do service on locomotives.

Some Erie Sights

November 16, 2017

Hunter’s railroad wasn’t being very cooperative. I had set up on the West Main Street bridge in downtown Kent hoping to get a train or two on the CSX New Castle Subdivision.

Westbound intermodal trains Q015 and Q137 have been operating in mid to late afternoon of late. But I got crickets. There wasn’t as much as a peep on the radio.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, I got out and walked around to make photographs of whatever caught my eye, including some Erie Railroad relics.

The most prominent of those is the former passenger station, which has been restored and now houses an Italian restaurant.

Just south of the station is a heavyweight passenger car painted in Erie colors. It apparently is used as a meeting room, although I’ve never seen anyone in it.

There is a signal box by the station that I know I’ve seen dozens of times, but never photographed. Today I saw something there as the late afternoon sunlight cast a warm glow on the rust-covered box. Who knows how many years it has been here and how many trains it has seen?

Finally, I checked out the siding for the Star of the West grain elevator. Just the night before during a program at the Railroad Enthusiasts meeting in Cleveland there was speculation as to what will happen with this property, which closed earlier this year.

The Erie would have served this facility as did the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway. Now the siding sits unused.

At one time, one of the mainline tracks would have been here, but it has been a long time since these rails were a double-track mainline.

Shippers Demand Congress Address CSX Service

November 16, 2017

Some CSX shippers are seeking more hearing about the railroad’s service issues.

The Rail Customer Coalition argues that CSX service has not improved and it wants federal officials to take action on complaints they expressed during an Oct. 11 hearing held by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The coalition made its demand in letters dated Nov. 14 and addressed to the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee and the House of Representative’s Transportation Committee,

The letters assert that CSX customers continue to experience “service changes with little notice, missed switches, and poor communication on delivery status.”

The shippers group also wants Congress to “examine the CSX service breakdown, and potential means available to the STB to mitigate the adverse impacts to the rail network.”

Members of the coalition include the American Chemistry Council, National Farmers Union, the Sulphur Institute and 30 other organizations.

Although CSX has presented figures showing that car dwell time in yards and average train speeds have improved since last summer, the coalition is questioning whether those service metrics matter because they continue to perceive freight delays.

CSX Acknowledges Taking New Approach to Intermodal

November 9, 2017

Intermodal business is not the only thing that CSX is looking to downsize. Appearing at two investor conferences this week, CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said the railroad is also looking at shedding some lines and curtailing capital expenditures and expansion projects.

“We are in the evaluation phase,” Lonegro said, noting that CEO E. Hunter Harrison has said everything is for sale at the right price.

“Things that are non-core to the long-term business that we have and the long-term success of CSX, those things will ultimately be for sale,” Lonegro told the Stephens Fall Investor Conference.

Lonegro stopped short of acknowledging that CSX is ending the hub and spoke model on which intermodal operations at its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal near North Baltimore are based.

Lonegro said Harrison wants to emphasize intermodal service to higher-volume, point-to-point markets.

As for reports that CSX has canceled plans to build a similar intermodal terminal in North Carolina, he would only say that plans for that terminal are under review.

However, speaking to the Baird Global Industrial Conference this week, Lonegro did say that CSX plans to reduce its capital spending next year and beyond.

This includes storing locomotives and freight cars and putting on hold expansion projects as the railroad transitions into a precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Lonegro said CSX  is likely to hold off on intermodal terminal investments in favor of leveraging the investments the railroad has made over the past decade.

Lonegro’s comments were the first made by a high-ranking CSX executive since a management shakeup in late October that will send three top executives out the door on Nov. 15.

The management changes also led to the cancellation of an investor’s conference that was to have been hosted by CSX in Florida on Oct. 30.

Instead, Lonegro said, Harrison gathered about 30 high-level managers in the Sunshine State and spoke for about six hours during what was billed as a “restart meeting.”

Some railroad industry analysts believe the investor conference that was canceled will be held during the first quarter of 2018.

During his remarks this past week, Lonegro said the North Baltimore terminal was being used by CSX to funnel traffic to and from smaller intermodal markets.

However, CSX has now decided to shut it down because its handling cost reduce profit in a line of business with razor-thin profit margins.

Lonegro said intermodal is all about creating traffic density. “If it costs you more to create the density, then you shouldn’t artificially create the density,” he said.

CSX plans to adopt a different approach to what Lonegro described as “ultra-low density lanes” but did not elaborate on what that will be.

“Hunter’s driving force around the intermodal strategy is to improve the profitability of that segment of the business,” Lonegro said.

Thus far CSX had ended intermodal service in scores of low-volume origins-destination pairs and moved light intermodal traffic in other lanes into its merchandise network.

Some CSX Customers Still Unhappy With Service

November 9, 2017

The degree to which CSX has overcome its service problems of recent months depends on who is doing the talking.

In an analysis published on its website, Trains magazine noted that although CSX contends that although it is moving past its service problems, many shippers counter that the railroad’s service is still plagued by erratic transit times, lost carloads, and misrouted shipments.

The National Grain and Feed Association said its members cannot get accurate information from the CSX customer service department.

“In some cases, our members have said they simply have given up, alleging that answers provided by CSXT personnel — if and when they can access them — often are opaque and vague,” said Randall Gordon, president of the association, in a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last week.

Trains said it heard similar complaints from large merchandise shippers, chemical shippers, and short-line and regional railroads.

“It is still a big mess for us,” an unnamed merchandise shipper told Trains. “I am talking with the STB almost daily.”

Another merchandise shipper studied round-trip transit times on eight of the origin-destination pairs that it uses on CSX, comparing September and October of this year to the eight-month period before CEO E. Hunter Harrison took over the railroad .

It found slower service on five of the eight lanes and improved transit times on two lanes, including one in which the transit time was six days faster.

“It does not look like the CSX troubles are behind us,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council. “Things have not returned to normal.”

The agricultural shipper group said some of its members reported improving service in early October while others are reporting that cars are arriving four to seven days behind schedule after bouncing around the CSX system.

Some of these misroutings have been due to billing instruction errors that have sent cars to the wrong destination. But at other times yard congestion is to blame. Loaded cars have waited five to seven days to be picked up.

However, CSX did seek to expedite delivery of an overdue train from Georgia to Okeechobee County, Florida, after several mills in the area had run out of corn and other ingredients to manufacture feed for dairy cattle.

CSX executives have been pointing to improvements in terminal dwell and average train speed in recent weeks.

A CSX spokesperson said the railroad has worked to meet the demands of the harvest season to be at the same or better levels than they were in 2016.

The spokesman said CSX has expanded its Grain Express program, which aims to ensure that unit trains are loaded and unloaded within 15 hours of arrival.

Speaking this week to an investor’s conference in New York, CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said average transit times have improved.

He presented figures showing the average transit time was around 6.5 days in early March and declined to around 5.9 days in May before nearing 8 days amid the height of the service problems in August.

The average transit time since then has been on a steady decline and is now back to six days.

Lonegro boasted that CSX is the only Class I railroad that can claim year-over-year improvements in train speeds, terminal dwell, and the number of cars on line.

He also emphasized that during the third quarter of 2017 CSX set a new operating ratio record, while operating income was up 20 percent.

CSX expects to reach an operating ratio of around 66 or 67 percent this year, along with earnings per share growth of between 20 and 25 percent.

In his telling, Lonegro attributed the service problems to the rapid pace of changes that CSX made to implement the precision scheduled railroading model.

These changes included converting eight of the railroad’s dozen humps to flat-switching terminals, placing what had been metals and rock unit trains into manifest freight trains, restructuring local service plans, introducing seven-day-a-week intermodal service, consolidating Florida intermodal trains, and implementing a “full balanced network plan” over the Fourth of July holiday.

CSX also consolidated its operating regions to five and replaced field leadership with new managers who had worked with the precision scheduled railroading model at Canadian National or were existing CSX managers who had completed a “Hunter Camps,” which was intensive training in the operating model.

Lonegro said about 85 percent of the merchandise network changes have been implemented and CSX is now working to execute its operating plan and make refinements.

This includes continuing to evaluate hump yard operations. He said CSX convert another hump to flat switching or reopen another hump as traffic volume dictates.

Earlier this summer, CSX converted Avon Yard near Indianapolis to flat switching, but reversed course as the western end of its network became congested.

It also scrapped plans for now to convert Selkirk Yard near Albany, New York, to flat switching only.

Clinchfield F Unit to Lead Santa Train

November 7, 2017

For the 75th running of the Santa Train over the former Clinchfield Railroad, CSX has repainted an F unit in Clinchfield markings and its one-time colors of yellow and gray.

The repainting of Clinchfield F3A No. 800 was done at the CSX locomotive shops in Huntington, West Virginia, and it will lead the train on Nov. 18 on a journey from Shelby, Kentucky, to Kingsport, Tennessee.

No. 800 was built by EMD in 1948 and CSX shop crews had to do some research to determine what it looked like when it rolled off the factory floor.

The unit has pulled Clinchfield Santa trains before, starting in 1979. Over the years it has operated in Seaboard System and CSX liveries. F units last pulled the Clinchfield Santa trains in 1989.

Some railroad historians describe No. 800 as an F5 because it was a transitional model to the F7. When built, No. 800 was classified as a Phase V F3A.

After working in MARC commuter service, No. 800 was retired serviceable in 1993 as No. 116.

The locomotive was donated to the C&O Historical Society, which displayed it in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

Working with No. 800 on this year’s Santa Train will be former Clinchfield No. 3632, a former Seaboard Coast Line SD45 repainted into Clinchfield markings.

Is CSX Trying to Eat its Seed Corn?

November 6, 2017

Under normal circumstances, I don’t cover news beyond the states that surround Ohio, but there is a story out of Baltimore that is worth following because it may say much about what is going on with CSX these days.

Last week CSX said it would not contribute $145 million to a public-private partnership to enlarge the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore to accommodate double-stacked container trains.

When the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad built the tunnel 122 years ago, no one could have envisioned stack trains, let alone intermodal trains carrying containers and truck trailers.

Howard Street is just one example of the aging infrastructure in the Northeast transportation corridor between New York and Washington that needs to upgraded, rebuilt or replaced. It won’t be inexpensive.

You might think that CSX would be keen on modernizing the Howard Street Tunnel because it is an impediment to developing the I-95 corridor between New Jersey and Florida. And for a time it was.

Enlarging the Howard Street Tunnel would have benefited the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore, which has seen an increase in container traffic since the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Figures provided by the Maryland Port Administration show that the port handled a record 10.3 million tons of general freight and nearly 908,000 TEUs (20-foot-equivalent units) of containers in fiscal year 2017, which ended on June 30.

Then along came E. Hunter Harrison of precision scheduled railroading fame.

In announcing the decision to cancel its share of funding for enlarging Howard Street Tunnel, CSX put out a statement that referenced precision scheduled railroading – it has become a buzz phrase used as boilerplate in virtually every CSX statement and news release these days – and made a vague statement that the tunnel project “no longer justifies the level of investment required from CSX and our public partners at this time.”

But as Railway Age magazine pointed out, the statement did not fully explain why CSX decided to bail out on funding the Howard Street project.

When the magazine asked CSX to elaborate, its PR department replied with the same statement it had issued earlier. CSX is not going to explain itself any further.

Railway Age suggested two possible reasons for why CSX backed away from the Howard Street tunnel project.

One is that a fresh set of eyes in CSX management decided that the return on investment wasn’t worth $145 million because the volume of double-stack container traffic likely to use the tunnel would not be as high as the previous CSX management projected.

The other theory is that CSX management is dancing to the tune being played by hedge fund Mantle Ridge, which played a major role in getting Harrison installed as CEO last spring.

This theory is that CSX is diverting cash from infrastructure projects to a $1.5 billion stock buy-back program that will benefit Mantle Ridge, which acquired a sizable block of CSX stock in order to have enough clout to force the company to hire Harrison.

Media outlets have also been reporting that CSX has decided against building a new $270 million intermodal terminal near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Designed to develop intermodal business in the middle Atlantic region, the Carolina Connector was to be modeled after the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal in North Baltimore, Ohio, which opened in 2010.

CSX has begun scaling back operations in North Baltimore and there are reports that it plans to end intermodal operations there on Nov. 11. Last year, North Baltimore handled nearly 30 percent of CSX’s intermodal traffic.

It is not clear yet what strategy CSX has in mind for its intermodal business other than it is abandoning the hub and spoke system of building traffic density at terminals such as North Baltimore and the proposed North Carolina facility.

Railway Age quoted railroad economist Jim Blaze as saying that without enlarging the Howard Street Tunnel, most of the talk about developing the I-95 corridor and diverting traffic from trucks is just talk.

“Stack trains are about 35 percent more efficient than single-level intermodal trains,” Blaze told Railway Age. “Without Baltimore as a double-stack route, other intermodal I-95 projects on CSX’s two-decade-long wish list are likely also now at risk. My questions: Where’s the traffic growth to come from for intermodal east of the Appalachian Mountains? What’s the back-up plan to grow the top line of the CSX income statement? This is a strategic economic issue.”

Blaze predicted that the “winners” of the CSX decision will be truckers as well as Norfolk Southern, which has been working for two decades to develop a double-stack route between the New York City/Northern New Jersey region and Florida.

The NS route is longer and more circuitous than the CSX route, but has clearance to handle stack trains all the way.

If the Mantle Ridge influence theory is true, it suggests that CSX is playing a game that has been played out many times before in corporate America.

In the 19th century, it was common for financiers to “milk” railroads for all the money they could before walking away and leaving the railroad a shadow of its former self.

That might not happen to CSX, but I also wonder if this is replay of another era not that long ago that was described in Rush Loving’s book, The Men Who Loved Trains.

That book described another CSX administration that was focused on expense control of its income statement and balance sheet assets to the detriment of infrastructure development.

It decided that short-term financial gain could be had by squeezing a little more life out of ancient signals and other infrastructure.

In this case, CSX has decided it can get by a little longer with a narrow tunnel in a key intermodal lane.

Rather than spending money to make money, CSX has decided to hoard and eat its seed corn.

Share the Trail With a CSX ET44EH

November 3, 2017

Walkers, joggers and bicyclists are common users of the Portage Hike and Bike trail, but with a little imagination you can pretend that this CSX ET44EH is coming around the curve and continuing down the trail to Kent.

In reality, CSX No. 3343 is going away on Track No. 2 in a light power move.

Note the remains of the foundation of the Erie Railroad roundhouse at the right by the sign that explains some history of the Erie in Kent.

That sign contains a few photographs of the Erie in Kent that were made by the late Robert Redmond, a one-time Akron Railroad Club member.