Posts Tagged ‘CSX’

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.

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Maintaining the Tracks in Marion

February 15, 2018

I was in Marion last summer when a train calling symbol W053 on the radio approached from the north on the Columbus Subdivision.

It turned out to be a work train that was spraying weeds along the right of way.

The machine was turned off as the train passed Marion Union Station.

Class 1 Capital Budgets Are Mixed Bag

February 15, 2018

North America’s Class 1 Railroads have varying plans for capital spending in 2018.

At one extreme, Canadian National plans spend a record $C3.2 billion for capital spending, which includes laying new track and buying new locomotives.

That is an increase of C$500 million over what CN spent last year.

On the other extreme are CSX and Kansas City Southern, both of which have cut their capital spending budget.

Compared with its peers, CSX is taking a meat axe to its capital budget, slashing it by $400 million to $1.6 billion for the year.

KCS is reducing its capital budget by $30 million and will spend between $530 million and $550 million.

Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern are planning to increase their capital spending while BNSF and Canadian Pacific have announced flat capital budget.

NS will spend an additional $100 million on a $1.8 billion capital budget while UP is increasing capital spending by $200 million to $3.3 billion.

The BNSF 2018 capital budget is $3.3 billion while CP will spend between C$1.45 billion and C$1.5 billion.

CN plans to spend C$1.6 billion on track and other infrastructure, including replacing 2.1 million ties and more than 600 miles of rail.

It also plans to plunk down C$400 million on equipment acquisitions, including 60 high-horsepower locomotives as part of a three-year, 200-unit order from GE.

At NS, track maintenance projects are budgeted at $930 million this year while it will spend $345 million for locomotives and $50 million for cars.

“Locomotive capital will be focused on the rebuild and conversion of locomotives from DC to AC power,” said NS Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Earhart.

With CSX mothballing numerous locomotives and freight cars, it sees no need to acquire new equipment.

KCS said its capital budget is down largely because it won’t be buying any locomotives.

FRA Concerned About Safety at CSX

February 13, 2018

A Trains magazine special report on safety and CSX found that train accident and personal injury rates increased by 12 percent and 13 percent last year.

It cited unknown sources as saying that the Federal Railroad Administration is becoming increasingly concerned with safety trends at CSX.

The report said the FRA fears the rapid pace of change at CSX within the past year has increased the risk of injury.

Those changes have included having three CEOs, changes in the ranks of front-line operating personnel, changes in operating rules, and the increased pressure to deliver on promises made to shareholders and shippers regarding improved financial and operational performance.

Among the rule changes that Trains said have drawn the attention of the FRA are increasing the restricted speed allowed in yards from 15 mph to 20 mph and allowing crews to get on and off moving equipment.

CSX has abolished road foremen of engine positions and given their duties to trainmasters.

Citing unnamed sources, the magazine report said this has reduced the effectiveness of the supervision of engineers and conductors.

The FRA is also concerned about whether CSX locomotive engineers have been trained properly to handle long trains, but CSX has resisted those concerns.

In 2013, the CSX train accident rate was the lowest among Class 1 railroads. But it increased by 73 percent between 2013 through 2017, while the employee personal injury frequency rate increased 38 percent during the same period.

In the first 11 months of 2017, CSX had the highest train accident rate among the big six Class 1 railroads.

CSX, though, sees things differently. In statement, it said that its FRA reportable personal injury frequency index of 1.19 for 2017 was 13 percent unfavorable versus the prior year as man-hours fell by 9 percent while overall injuries were up slightly

“While the FRA train accident frequency rate increased year-over-year, overall FRA train accidents remained flat and train miles decreased 12 percent year-over-year,” the carrier said in a statement.

CSX also said it remains committed to ongoing safety improvement with a focus on reducing injury severity and avoiding catastrophic events. It said it engages in continuous improvements in safety through training, innovation, and paying for technology that can help prevent accidents caused by human error.

The statement also said CSX works with the FRA to discuss any concerns or questions that regulators raise.

Trains said that most CSX accidents occur in yards, which the magazine said is true of all railroads, and involve trains moving at low speed. The accidents seldom result in significant injuries.

Yet the magazine’s sources said the FRA has received complaints from CSX employees saying they don’t have enough time to properly inspect trains.

Although CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison culled the company’s workforce, his predecessor, Michael Ward, laid off nearly 1,000 management employees in February 2017.

Some industry observers told Trains that the rapid pace of change at CSX in the past year may have affected safety.

“How do you maintain a safety culture when you are making some really radical changes to the operation in a short amount of time,” said Allan Rutter, a former FRA administrator who now is division head of freight and investment analysis at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in Dallas.

Former FRA administrator and Amtrak CEO, Joseph Boardman told Trains that it’s dangerous for any railroad to undergo as much change as CSX has in such a short period of time.

“Safety culture is a very difficult thing,” Boardman said. “You have to be consistent, you have to keep moving forward.”

Steven Ditmeyer, a former FRA official, said the increased accident rates are significant, saying that it appears likely that CSX workers didn’t follow rules and procedures to ensure that a switch was properly lined before the Amtrak’s Silver Star crashed into a parked CSX auto rack train.

“I view it as a legacy of Hunter Harrison,” he said.

Nonetheless, when Harrison was CEO at Canadian Pacific it had an industry-best train accident rate, while personal injuries rose slightly, by 6 percent. That was, however, still at the low end of the Class I systems.

Ditmeyer said that at CSX “Harrison was trying to do a much more rapid change on a much more complex network.”

Amtrak Pays Legal Claims of the Victims of its Accidents Even Though One of its Host Railroad May be at Fault

February 13, 2018

Based on information released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the collision in South Carolina that left two Amtrak crew members dead seems pretty straightforward.

A switch had been left open, thus routing the southbound Silver Star into a head-on crash with a parked CSX auto rack train.

That might seem to be the fault of a CSX employee although it’s possible the switch could have been tampered with by someone else.

The NTSB is expected to release its report on the cause of the accident more than year from now.

Whatever the cause of the accident, Amtrak likely will wind up paying the money that will go to those filing lawsuits in the wake of the crash.

It won’t matter if CSX is found to have sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak likely will pay the claims.

The accident on Feb. 4 in Cayce, South Carolina, has trained the spotlight again on a little-known fact about Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads.

Agreements between the passenger carrier and its host railroads leave Amtrak responsible for paying the legal claims that stem from accidents.

The exact language of those contracts has been kept secret at the insistence of the railroads and Amtrak, say lawyers who have been involved in legal proceedings involving Amtrak and a host railroad.

Amtrak has track use contracts with 30 railroads and all of them are “no fault” agreements.

As explained by an Amtrak executive in a September 2017 seminar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, that means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train.

A host railroad is only responsible for its property and employees.

Amtrak manager Jim Blair said at the seminar that this was “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

It doesn’t matter if the host railroad was negligent in causing the crash.

It wasn’t always that way, but things changed after a 1987 crash on the Northeast Corridor at Chase, Maryland, when Amtrak’s New York-bound Colonial struck a Conrail light power move that had run a stop signal.

Sixteen died in the crash. During the investigation, authorities learned that the Conrail engineer was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Although Conrail paid damages from the resulting lawsuits, the railroad industry began pushing for Amtrak to assume liability for damage claims resulting from accidents, even if the host railroad was at fault for the cause of the accident.

A former member of the Amtrak board of directors said that following the Chase crash, Amtrak faced “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the company’s internal legal discussions are supposed to remain confidential and he doesn’t want to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

The Amtrak board member said management gave in to the railroad industry demands because it felt it couldn’t afford to pick a fight.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access, but it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train,” he said.

The practice of Amtrak paying damages for accidents involving its trains was revealed in a 2004 New York Times series on railroad grade crossing safety.

Following that disclosure, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that a railroad “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” said a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads. However, Amtrak has declined to do so.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at the law firm of Conner & Winters.

The Associated Press reported in the wake of the Cayce crash that it was unable to find any case in which Amtrak pursued a claim against a freight railroad since the Chase incident.

AP said it asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. However, none would provide such an example.

Robert L. Potrroff is a member of a Kansas law firm that specializes in railroad accident litigation, told the AP that even in a case in which establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Another attorney, Ron Goldman, who has represented passenger rail accident victims, said he has long been curious whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads that ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long thought that Amtrak should fight its contract railroads on liability matters because it would make safety a larger financial consideration for them. He also said there is a fairness issue at stake.

Following the Chase crash, a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Pontroff is representing clients who have sued Amtrak and CSX following last week’s South Carolina crash, but doesn’t expect CSX to pay any settlements or judgments.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all [of] the infrastructure,” he said. “[But] Amtrak always pays.”

The railroad industry contends that it has ample incentive to keep tracks safe for employees, customers and investors.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” said CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker in a statement to the Associated Press.

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.

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.

CSX Employee Provided Wrong Information About Switch Status, Jacksonville Newspaper Reports

February 7, 2018

A Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper reported on Tuesday that incorrect information provided by a CSX employee helped lead to a head-on collision early Sunday morning between a CSX auto rack train and Amtrak’s Silver Star.

Two Amtrak employees were killed in the collision in Cayce, South Carolina, and 116 were injured.

The Jacksonville Business Journal said it based its report on CSX records that it obtained and a source the newspaper did not name.

Those documents show that Amtrak’s New York to Miami No. 91 had stopped five miles before the collision site.

At the time, the signal system in that area had been off since 8 a.m. on Saturday as work progressed to install positive train control.

After a CSX conductor at the site informed the dispatcher that a manual control switch had been moved back into its normal position, the dispatcher cleared the Amtrak train to proceed.

However, the switch had not been restored and Amtrak No. 91 was routed into the path of the parked auto rack train, which did not have a crew on board at the time of the collision.

With the signal system turned off, dispatchers were governing movement in the area with track warrants.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt has told reporters during press briefings that the CSX auto rack train had backed into the siding after working at an auto facility.

Sumwalt said investigators discovered that the switch that had been opened to enable the CSX train to move into the siding was locked with a padlock in the open position.

Amtrak No. 91 had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board at the time of the crash.

CSX Signals Had Been Turned off For PTC Installation

February 6, 2018

Some news accounts of the head-on collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning mentioned that the signal system in place on the line had been turned off.

There was a reason for that. CSX crews were working to cut in a positive train control system on the route, the same system that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said might have prevented the crash.

During a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sumwalt said Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was operating with track warrants in temporarily dark territory.  See a post below for an account of the final seconds before the crash.

Crews for Amtrak and CSX were in verbal contact with the dispatcher controlling that stretch of track where the work was being performed, which is the Columbia Subdivision of the Florence Division.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigators have thus far not found any problems with the track where the collision occurred in Cayce, South Carolina.

Earlier NTSB news briefings said that a switch had been left aligned to route Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX auto rack train, which was sitting on a siding without a crew onboard.

The collision, which destroyed Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and CSX AC44CW Nos. 130 resulted in an Amtrak engineer and conductor being killed.

Sumwalt said the NTSB inquiry will be broader than the mechanics of how the crash occurred.

“It is very important that we look at each of these incidents in isolation to determine if there are systemic issues,” Sumwalt, making reference to other incidents involving Amtrak in recent months. “Last Wednesday, it was a garbage truck that was on the track. We aren’t sure what happened here [and] why that switch was lined for the siding. We do look at safety culture issues and we did a report in October.”

That report, which reviewed an April 2016 incident in the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania that left two Amtrak maintenance of way workers dead, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of an effective safety culture.

NTSB Says Amtrak Engineer Applied Brakes, Sounded Horn Seconds Before Fatal Crash

February 5, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday afternoon that the engineer of Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star had applied the train brakes seconds before it struck a parked CSX freight train in a siding in Cayce, South Carolina.

The engineer also sounded his locomotive’s horn for three seconds.

NTSB investigators have said that a misaligned switch routed Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX train, which did not have a crew aboard at the time of the collision early Sunday  morning.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found the data event recorders of Amtrak P42DC No. 47 undamaged in the wreckage.

The Amtrak engineer and an Amtrak conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed in the crash, which also left 116 people aboard the train injured.

Sumwalt said the data showed that seven seconds before impact, the locomotive horn sounded for three seconds. The train was traveling at 56 miles per hour at that point, which was slightly slower than the 59 mph top speed allowed at that location.

Five seconds before impact, the brake pipe pressure began decreasing, indicating that the train brakes were being applied. The engineer had also moved the throttle from full to idle, which dropped the train’s speed to 54 miles an hour.

Three seconds before the collision, the emergency brakes were applied.

Sumwalt said the force of the collision moved the lead CSX locomotive 15 feet back from its location.

The switch that is the focus of the investigation was described as a hand-thrown switch that was found to have been locked into position to route a train from a mainline track into a siding.

The CSX train was sitting stationary 659 feet from the switch. Sumwalt indicated that aligning the switch for a straight move on the main would have been the responsibility of a CSX employee.

“We want to understand why that was the case,” Sumwalt said of why the switch was aligned as it was.

He said investigators found no mechanical problems with the switch.

Thus far, NTSB personnel have interviewed the CSX engineer, conductor, dispatcher, and a trainmaster. They plan to interview the surviving Amtrak crew members on Tuesday.

Earlier reports indicated that the signal system in the area of the crash was in the process of being upgraded and that trains were operating under track warrants issued by the dispatcher.

Sumwalt declined to reveal what the CSX employees said during the interviews.

He also declined to assess any blame. “I’m confident that our investigators will be able to piece this back together,” Sumwalt said.