Posts Tagged ‘E Hunter Harrison’

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.”

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Ex-CSX VP Lands Job at Union Pacific

January 29, 2018

A former CSX high-ranking executive who was forced out of her job as vice president and chief operations officer had handed a VP job with Union Pacific.

Sanborn

Cindy Sanborn, the first woman to hold a senior operating executive role at a Class I railroad,  was among three CSX executives who left the carrier last November during a management shakeup instituted by then-CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

Sanborn will become regional vice president transportation-western region at UP on Feb. 16.

She will replace the retiring Richard Castagna and lead rail operations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico from a base in Roseville, California.

Sanborn had held various management positions during her 30 years at CSX.

CSX to Require CEOs to Get Annual Exam

January 24, 2018

The board of directors of CSX has decided that henceforth all of its CEOs will have an annual visit with a doctor.

The board will adopt the policy change in the wake of the death of former CEO E. Hunter Harrison last month.

The health of the 72-year-old Harrison had been an issue when he was hired as CEO last spring.

Harrison was known to have health issues and the CSX board at the time insisted that his medical records be reviewed by an independent physician. But Harrison balked, saying that his doctor had cleared him to assume the CEO position.

The CSX board dropped its demand and Harrison took over the C suite at CSX in March.

Harrison died on Dec. 16 two days after taking a medical leave for unspecified health problems.

Railway Age magazine has reported that Harrison suffered from emphysema and it had been widely reported that he used supplemental oxygen.

Federal securities laws do not require companies to disclose executive health problems, but some firms provide that information because it might affect an investor’s decisions to buy or sell stock.

It is not uncommon for companies to be cagey about why their CEOs take medical leave.

United Continental Holdings, the parent company of United Airlines, for example disclosed that its CEO Oscar Munoz had been hospitalized but did not initially reveal in October 2015 that he had suffered a heart attack.

Munoz, who once headed CSX, underwent a transplant and returned to work the following year.

Thomas Flannery, managing partner at the executive search firm Boyden, described the matter of forcing an executive to share his or her medical history with a board of directors as a slippery slope because of privacy concerns. It could have a bigger downside than upside.

He said he encourages executives and their boards to be open about health problems and whether they affect the executive’s ability to fulfill his or her duties.

The CSX board plans to change its policy next month during a meeting, thus avoiding a vote on a resolution that was set to be introduced at the company’s annual meeting.

The policy will require the CEO to get a comprehensive physical performed by a medical provider chosen by the board, according to a letter submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A CSX spokesman would not comment on the matter.

The shareholder vote had been proposed by John Fishwick, a Virginia attorney who owns 1,000 shares of CSX stock.

No Turning Back, Foote Says

January 18, 2018

New CSX CEO James M. Foote wanted to make one thing clear. On his watch there will be no turning back from the commitment made to precision scheduled railroading that the late E. Hunter Harrison brought to the carrier last year.

James Foote

During a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the railroad’s fourth quarter financial results, Foote praised Harrison and said CSX would not be where it is today without him.

“I am committed to seeing his vision through and making CSX the best railroad in North America,” Foote said.

Speaking during the same conference call the newly-appointed CSX vice president of operations, Edmond Harris, said the carrier will continue what Harrison started, including operating fewer trains, putting more locomotives into storage, moving the same tonnage with fewer freight cars, and having a more fluid network.

“The table has been set,” Harris said, saying CSX will take advantage of technology and boost the use of distributed motive power.

Foote said he made changes to the sales and marketing structure to simplify the organization by reducing the leadership group to three business units and aligning certain functions into other departments.

He said he also implemented changes in the operating department at the staff and field levels in order to achieve more efficient operation and achieve service improvements.

Foote noted that one of his first moves as CEO was to order the hump to be razed at Tilford Yard in Atlanta.

The yard, which remains open as a flat switching facility, was one of eight hump yards that were converted last year.

As for what the future holds for CSX operations, Harris said that he favors run-through interchange trains and would like to see CSX bypass the Belt Railway of Chicago by running merchandise trains directly to BNSF and Union Pacific.

He will also seek partnerships with short lines railroads and other Class I carriers to create shorter, more efficient routes.

CSX will study creating directional running for longer trains and will continue to build longer trains pulled by fewer locomotives per train.

Foote said CSX will make it a priority to improve its on-time performance, which was just 56 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Calling that unsatisfactory, Foote said CSX plans to create schedule plans for every carload as a way to improve on-time deliveries.

Foote acknowledged that the rapid changes that Harrison ordered at CSX before his death last Dec. 16, disrupted operations, resulting in angry shippers and additional regulatory oversight.

The railroad also lost some traffic, but Foote predicted that most of it will return. “We are seeing some of those customers return already,” Foote said.

However, CSX doesn’t expect to recoup the 7 percent loss it suffered in domestic intermodal business after it closed its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal and ditched the hub and spoke strategy toward building intermodal traffic.

CSX’s intermodal strategy will be built on increasing container traffic to East Coast ports and not on seeking to develop low-volume service lanes.

Capital spending will fall by 20 percent to $1.6 billion in 2018 on top of a 25 percent cut last year.

That prompted some analysts on the conference call to express concern about CSX’s ability to maintain its infrastructure.

In response, Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said CSX will spend $1.4 billion this year on track maintenance, which he said is about the same as it spent in previous years.

Lonegro said most of the curtailed capital spending would have been for new locomotives and freight cars. But with 900 locomotives in storage, and 20,000 cars sidelined, he said it would be many years before CSX needs to buy more rolling stock.

Looking ahead to a March 1 investors conference, CSX executives said they did not want to provide many details about their expectations for this year and beyond other than they expect the operating ratio to improve due to operations improvements and efficiency gains.

However, they did say that CSX expects to reduce its payroll by 2,000 people this year and that it ended 2017 with 3,282 employees than it had on the last day of 2016. CSX now employs 24,000. CSX also reduced the number of consultants that it hired by 1,418.

CSX Names Operations VP

January 9, 2018

A former Canadian National executive has been brought out of retirement to help CSX in its implementation of precision scheduled railroading.

Harris

Edmond L. Harris has been named executive vice president of operations and will oversee mechanical, engineering, transportation and network operations.

Harris, who will begin his position immediately, worked with the late E. Hunter Harrison and current CSX CEO James M. Foote at CN.

He also worked with Harrison at the Illinois Central Railroad where Harrison initially implemented the precision scheduled railroading model.

During his 40 years in the railroad industry, Harris rose to the post of executive vice president of operations at CN.

He later served as chief operations officer at Canadian Pacific and held a seat on the CP board of directors.

Harris also was as a senior adviser to Global Infrastructure Partners, an independent fund that invests in infrastructure assets worldwide; chairman of Omnitrax Rail Network; and board director for Universal Rail Services. He began his railroad career in operations at the IC.

Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in management from the University of Illinois-Chicago,  Harris served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969 to 1973.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

Foote Named Permanent CSX CEO

December 23, 2017

James M. Foote had the word “acting” removed from his title on Friday after the CSX board of directors unanimously voted to name him the company’s permanent president and chief executive officer.

James Foote

Foote had been named acting CEO on Dec. 14 after E. Hunter Harrison was placed on medical leave. Harrison died two days later.

In a news release, CSX said that Foote will also join the board of directors.

“Jim has decades of railroading experience and the board is confident of his ability to lead the company,” says CSX Chairman Edward J. Kelly III in a statement. “He has already had a markedly positive impact. The board looks forward to working with him.”

Foote said in the same statement that his intends to continue to implement Harrison’s model of precision scheduled railroading, saying that its implementation is well underway, with the most critical components of the implementation completed and beginning to generate measurable operating improvement.

“We look forward to providing an update on our strategic progress and to showcase our deeply talented management team at our upcoming investor day in March,” Foote said.

Before joining CSX last October, Foote was president and CEO of Bright Rail Energy, a technology company formed in 2012 to design, develop, and sell products that allow railroads to switch locomotives to natural gas power.

He previously served as executive vice president of sales and marketing at Canadian National, which he had joined in 1995 as vice president of investor relations to assist the company’s privatization.

Foote began his railroad career in 1972 as a laborer in the mechanical department with the Soo Line Railroad in Superior, Wisconsin.

For nine years, he worked in operating positions with the Soo Line and the Chicago & North Western fulltime while earning his undergraduate and law degrees.

CSX May Change Mind on Baltimore Tunnel

December 21, 2017

In what might be the first post-Hunter Harrison turnabout at CSX, the railroad met with Maryland officials this week to discuss continuing the Howard Street Tunnel expansion project.

Last month CSX said it was pulling out of the project to enlarge an obstruction to operating double-stacked container trains in the Interstate 95 Corridor between New Jersey and Florida.

But this week acting CSX CEO James M. Foote met with the Maryland congressional delegation, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and representatives of Gov. Larry Hogan to discuss the project.

Maryland officials had requested the meeting and Senator Ben Cardin said Foote “agreed to have an open mind” about the tunnel project.

Although the Maryland officials said CSX indicated it would reconsider its decision to pull out of the project, the railroad stopped short of describing the meeting that way.

“CSX had a productive discussion about the Howard Street Tunnel with the Maryland Congressional delegation and representatives from the offices of Gov. Hogan and Mayor Pugh,” a CSX spokesman said. “CSX appreciates the partnership we have developed with the state, city, and port and we look forward to continuing the dialogue with them about our plans moving forward.”

Harrison, who died on Dec. 16, had criticized the project, saying he was philosophically opposed to receiving government money because then government officials “want to try to tell you how to run your company.”

He also said he thought the East Coast has too many ports vying for traffic.

“Nobody wants to be told their port’s not the superport,” Harrison said. “But somebody’s got to wake up to that and sometimes it’s got to be us by saying we can’t invest in that with shareholder money because it’s not a good investment.”

CSX would not say if Foote agrees with Harrison’s point of view on the Howard Street tunnel.

The $425 million tunnel clearance project was seen as a public-private partnership that would have relied on a combination of federal, state, and railroad funding with CSX providing $145 million.

When it initially agreed to participate in the project in 2016, CSX said the project would remove additional trucks from highways and create more than $640 million in benefits to 25 eastern states.

What Now for CSX? Foote Seen by Analysts as Staying as CEO, at Least in the Short Term

December 19, 2017

It remains an open question whether James. M. Foote will lead CSX long term, but many analysts believe the CSX board of directors will keep him in the short term as acting CEO in order to provide stability.

Foote became the acting CEO last Thursday after CEO E. Hunter Harrison took a medical leave of absence for a still undisclosed illness. Harrison died at his Florida home on Saturday.

“I do expect Jim to be named CEO, although I also think the board will proactively study (and look to fill) any gaps in the team,” said Taylor Glasebrook, associate portfolio manager at Neuberger Berman, the No. 8 shareholder in CSX with 10.5 million shares.

“We believe that Mr. Foote’s presence in the senior leadership team provides an important source of continuity,” Cherilyn Radbourne, a TD Securities analyst, wrote in a note to clients.

But Radbourne also noted, as have others, that Foote lacks experience in operations, having spent most of his four decade railroad career in marketing and sales.

“Our biggest concern is that Mr. Foote’s primary area of expertise is sales and marketing versus operations, and the senior management team now lacks a member with an operating background,” Radbourne wrote.

“He is a competent, experienced railroader who is familiar with precision railroading,” said John Larkin, an analyst with Stifel Equity Research. “He has been in place for a couple of months and has a head start on any others. The company has underdone enough uncertainty over the past couple of years and needs some stability.”

What Harrison’s death means for CSX in the long term is being debated by railroad industry observers.

“Harrison’s legendary ability to redesign a rail network with his Precision Scheduled Railroading model created the two most efficient operations in North America and we believe his legacy will continue at CSX,” J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Ossenbeck wrote on Sunday.

But Renny Ponvert, CEO of Management CV Inc., which analyzes top hires for money managers, told The Wall Street Journal, that hiring Harrison “was a classic triumph of short-term thinking over long-term sustainability.”

Povert said the CSX board “took a high-beta risk that appeared to pay off for the first six months. Now, they’re stuck with a consequence that could expose long-term shareholders.”

Bloomberg columnist Brooke Sutherland summed up what happened in the lead to her story this way: “CSX Corp. shareholders paid $84 million for Hunter Harrison. They’re now getting James Foote.”

In January when word got out that Harrison and the Mantle Ridge hedge fund were targeting CSX, the company’s stock value jumped 23 percent in one day.

One news report said CSX stock value has risen 48 percent this year and about 6 percent since March when Harrison took over.

The stock value fell on Friday about 10 percent, but then stabilized. On Monday CSX stock value rose 1.25 percent to $53.42.

Investors will be looking to a January CSX announcement of its fourth quarter 2017 performance for clues as to what the company plans to do going forward.

CSX also plans to hold an investors conference next March. By then the board may have already named Foote the permanent CEO and hired a chief operating officer.

Before his death, Harrison had purged the top executive ranks of most CSX holdovers.

Most of that shakeup came in late October and also brought Foote to the company to oversee operations and marketing.

Harrison had also been bringing in former Canadian National managers who understand his precision scheduled railroading model.

During a series of “Hunter camps,” which were intensive seminars led by Harrison himself that explained the concepts of precision scheduled railroading, he had identified what he termed “rock stars” who showed promise of understanding the model and being able to implement it.

CSX has signaled that it intends to continue to operate on the PSR model but some analysts have been debating whether it has the management team it needs to continue to oversee it.

Foote contended last Friday before Harrison death that most of the work in implementing PSR has been done and CSX had the people in place to fine tune things.

Some believe Foote and the current CSX management team might be better suited than was Harrison to soothe relations with shippers and employees who were upset at the rapid pace of change that Harrison brought to CSX and which resulted in service issues during the summer and early fall.

Yet some continue to doubt that Foote is the long-term answer for CSX.

“Even though Jim Foote is a capable leader we do not see him as the long-term solution as the CEO given his strength is marketing and the company is embarking on an operations-focused turnaround,” Cowen and Co. analyst Jason Seidl said in a note.

There has also been speculation in the wake of Harrison’s death that some CSX shareholders might launch litigation against the CSX board for breach of duty for having hired a CEO they knew had health issues.

The board had initially demanded that Harrison submit his medical records for review by an independent physician.

Harrison refused and the board backed down after Harrison submitted a letter from his doctor saying he was fit for the job.

One news account quoted two unnamed corporate attorneys as saying it might be difficult to win such a lawsuit because of Harrison’s known medical condition.

Harrison’s CSX Legacy Gets an Incomplete

December 17, 2017

Shortly after I learned on Saturday afternoon about the death of CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison, I logged into Trainorders.com to get a sense of how railfans were reacting to the news.

As I expected, many, although not all, posters wrote harsh, bitter and even over the top comments along the lines of “good riddance.”

A poster who goes by the screen name Darkcloud wrote, in part, “While it might be sad for his family, he ruined a lot of lives of rail workers who didn’t have the safety net of wealth to fall back on that he and his family do. Good men with good records fired under false pretenses or minor errors. Fired to ‘send a message’ or to save a few more dollars to pay for [the] obscene salary he demanded when already a set for life multi-millionaire.”

The business press by contrast offered a more gentile and longer view of Harrison’s passing.

Typical of those accounts was one published at Bloomberg.com that described Harrison as a turnaround chief executive officer.

“By relying on a strategy of cutting costs and implementing procedures to make all parts of the operation more efficient, Harrison transformed Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., Canadian National Railways Co. and Illinois Central Corp. into rail industry leaders. His reputation among analysts and investors was so strong that CSX shares jumped 23 percent on a single day in January 2017 when reports emerged that Harrison was in talks to take the helm,” Bloomberg reporter Frederic Tomesco wrote.

Can these disparate points of view be reconciled? Yes, if you keep in mind that how you view Ewing Hunter Harrison is shaped by the angle from which you view him.

History books are more likely to portray Harrison in the manner that Bloomberg did than with the emotionally wrought language often employed on chat lists.

And yet both speak to the same point. Harrison was a controversial but hard to ignore figure revered on Wall Street and respected by business writers and railroad trade journals, but often loathed by many who worked on his railroads.

There is no denying that Harrison will be remembered for his concept of precision scheduled railroading that he honed on the IC and then took to CN, CP and CSX.

There also is no denying that the tools that Harrison used to make his railroads more efficient included reducing payroll and demanding in no uncertain terms that workers and manager do things his way.

He lived by the credo of doing more with less; that meant fewer employees and assets, and pushing to get a little more out of both than his predecessors had done.

“Run a tight ship, and you can expect a reasonable return; manage it badly, and the sheer weight of assets will sink you,” Harrison wrote in his 2005 book How We Work and Why: Running a Precision Railroad

Harrison sought to frame himself as concerned with the welfare of his railroad’s employees and even hinted that he was pro labor. Yet at CP he ordered mid-level managers to learn how to operate trains in the event that the unions went on strike.

Likewise, Harrison sought to frame what he was doing at CSX as in the best interests of the railroad’s shippers even as many of those shippers flooded the U.S. Surface Transportation Board with complaints about shoddy service.

CSX acknowledged having service issues during the transition to the precision scheduled railroading model.

But Harrison was an old school manager who saw himself as being in the railroading business and not necessarily the transportation business, a viewpoint that was not unique to him.

He would never accept the premise of that statement, but even by his own words, Harrison acknowledged that CSX was trying to get shippers to change their behavior rather than the other way around.

A few weeks ago he dismissed shipper complaints as long-standing efforts by shipper trade groups to get the federal government to impose regulations on railroads.

This spoke to a paternalistic bent of “I know what is best for you” that no doubt irritated some CSX customers. What is best for shippers is not always what is best for CSX and vice versa.

Of late, Harrison and CSX executives had been touting the improvements that the railroad has made in such metrics as average train speed and dwell time of cars in classification yards.

Some of Harrison’s critics and even his admirers have wondered if precision scheduled railroading could work at CSX with its labyrinth route network and more complex mix of traffic than IC, CN or CP.

We’ll never fully know the answer to that question because Harrison won’t be around to see the process through. His CSX legacy is and always will be incomplete.

He led CSX for less than a year and although the surviving managers are likely to continue the precision scheduled railroading model, they won’t have Harrison around to lean on for guidance, leadership and inspiration.

Whatever successes or failures that CSX has in the coming months and years will be on those managers and not Harrison even if he established the direction that the railroad is going.

I’ve always believed that our society places too much emphasis on the efforts of individual presidents and chief executive officers.

We see them as larger than life figures and tend to attribute to them an organization’s good and bad behavior at all levels.

To be sure, the man or woman at the top sets a tone that percolates downward through the top managers that he or she hired and oversees. Some CEO’s do better at that than others.

Yet the focus on personality can overlook the context in which the top executive operates and might attribute to personality what is actually the work of culture and external forces and how an organization responds to those.

Yes, the personality, talent and skill of the CEO play a role in organizational behavior, but Class 1 railroads are complex organizations that engage in multiple juggling acts to seek to satisfy multiple masters.

Whether you thought Harrison did that well or not depends on your perspective as the commentary about his passing well illustrates. But critics and admirers both can agree that he was a towering figure in the railroad industry who stood over many of his peers and will be remembered for much longer than many of them because of his efforts to be a transformative leader.