Posts Tagged ‘Union Pacific’

CSX Had Lowest 1st Quarter Operating Ratio

May 10, 2018

CSX has the lowest operating ratio among Class 1 railroads in the first quarter of 2018.

The operating ratio of 63.7 percent compared to 69.4 percent during the first quarter of 2017 and was 0.9 points ahead of second-place Union Pacific.

A year ago, CSX was second-to-last among railroad operating ratios.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said earlier this year that CSX is seeking to hit a 60 percent operating ratio by 2020.

To be sure, there are underlying factors that enabled CSX to post the performance that it did.

Indeed, CSX’s operating-ratio ranking led by the pack due to a number of factors, including an accounting rules change that disproportionately affected longtime industry leaders Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Both Canadian carriers also had to contend with higher operating costs due to harsh winter weather and congestion.

Likewise, first quarter operating ratios tend to fluctuate due to the effect of winter weather.

CSX also benefited from a 96 percent increase in “other revenues,” which included such things as demurrage, a $30 million-increase in real estate sales, and a doubling of equity earnings of affiliates such as the Indiana Rail Road, Conrail, and TTX.

Even CSX CEO James M. Foote cautioned not to read too much into the first quarter operating ratio.

“The plan recently laid out at our investor conference is a three-year plan,” Foote said. “We’re only one quarter in, one out of 12, and we still have a lot of work to do to achieve our goals.

“As we demonstrated in the first quarter, we expect a solid step-down each year in the operating ratio. There remains significant work ahead in order to deliver on our 2020 target.”

Foote told investors earlier this year that the railroads is handling about the same amount of volume that it hauled a year ago with eight fewer hump yards, 1,000 fewer locomotives, 4,000 fewer employees and 20,000 fewer railcars.

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Another Shipper Group Unhappy With Railroads

March 27, 2018

A shipper group representing fertilizer producers has joined a growing chorus of customers that is giving the U.S. Surface Transportation Board an earful about service issues.

“Rail service challenges have been ongoing and increasingly pervasive,” wrote Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute, in a letter posted on the STB website.

Although Jahn mentioned CSX, he went on to say the carrier, which underwent major operational changes in 2017, is not the only problem spot for his members.

If anything, Jahn said, CSX service has improved recently. But fertilizer produces continue to experience “serious service disruptions” when shipping on Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

“Unfortunately, these service challenges are becoming increasingly pervasive,” Jahn wrote.

Some railroad industry analysts say service problems are a missed opportunity for railroad companies during a time when truck capacity is limited. Instead, carload freight volumes have been falling this year.

“This isn’t a crisis — but could lead to a gigantic missed market share opportunity,” Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting said in an interview with Trains magazine.

Reading Between the Lines of How CSX Management Projects Itself to the World

March 7, 2018

CSX executives revealed last week at long last their vision for their company. They were supposed to have done it last fall, but three top-ranking vice presidents left during a management shakeup. Then CEO E. Hunter Harrison died.

But things have now stabilized. CEO James M. Foote and his management team put forth the most optimistic and rosy scenarios that they dared to spin.

Hovering over those presentations in New York City, though was Harrison.

A year ago Harrison and the hedge fund Mantle Ridge were closing in on their takeover of CSX, a feat they pulled off with a relatively small amount of money and in a short amount of time.

Harrison had great plans for the hidebound CSX. He brought the precision scheduled railroading model that he had implemented on the Illinois Central and then at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Foote and his team went to great lengths to show that Harrison’s vision is their vision, too. Harrison received the reverence normally reserved for a company founder or elder statesman of much longer tenure.

Harrison had a lot of work to do. Independent railroad industry analyst Tony Hatch and Trains magazine columnist Fred Frailey have described CSX as long hindered by adherence to the practices of its  predecessor railroads, meaning it was  averse to change and rather bureaucratic.

Frailey said ormer CEO John Snow as uninspiring and his successor, Michael Ward, sought to move CSX forward but was bewildered as to how to get it out of its rut.

No wonder the CSX board of directors gave Harrison a chance even if, to quote his successor Foote, Harrison engaged in “carpet bombing” the railroad with fast-paced changes that led to widespread service failures that drew the ire of shippers and the attention of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

But all of that is behind CSX now, or so management wanted those attending or watching the presentations in New York to believe.

Some have bought it. Writing in Progressive Railroading, Hatch quoted an  investor as saying this was the best CSX meeting he had seen in a decade of watching the railroad.

The current management team laid out  goal of a 60 percent operating ratio by 2020, described a new intermodal business strategy, and pointed to the huge buckets of money it will fill from sales of unneeded real estate and rail lines.

Having a plan and making it work are not always, though, the same thing. Truth is every railroad company talks about growing traffic and all of them are facing challenges finding it.

Hatch said that if CSX is to increase its carload and intermodal business it will have to provide consistent and improving service.

Frailey didn’t comment directly on the New York conference, instead referring readers to articles written by the magazine’s writer covering the story, Bill Stephens.

Those articles, Frailey correctly observed, did well in showing how CSX seeks to project itself to the world.

Yet Frailey said some industry observers with whom he regularly corresponds have been debating the endgame that CSX management is seeking and it isn’t necessarily to grow traffic and become North America’s best railroad.

Those observers think CSX plans to eventually liquidate the company.

Frailey said the case for liquidation goes as follows: “The railroad borrows money to buy back an astounding $5 billion of stock, making every dollar of profit worth more to shareholders who stick around because the same amount of earnings is spread among many fewer shares . . . Freight rates are being jacked up to cover fully allocated costs, a direction I’m told only Union Pacific has gone up to now—milk the cow until it collapses, the saying goes. Its carload business has been steadily eroding since the turn of the century.”

The veteran journalist who has written about railroads since the 1960s said  he understands that CSX has reduced its marketing staff to a hard core operation.

That hardly sounds like a railroad that will be able to aggressively go to find new business. Perhaps CSX expects that by offering a superior product that shippers will come to it begging to do business.

The word “liquidate” that some of Frailey’s contacts used to describe CSX’s endgame is unfortunate because it conjures up selling assets and going away.

Perhaps a better description might have been to break up the railroad much as Illinois Central Gulf slimmed down in the 1970s and 1980s until it emerged as largely a Chicago-New Orleans core with a few arteries connecting to it.

Yes, some rail lines were abandoned, but most wound up in the hands of short line and regional railroads.

It was that railroad on which Harrison first implemented his precision scheduled railroading model.

Frailey isn’t sure what to make of what CSX is doing, but doesn’t believe Foote isn’t prepared to do the job thrust upon him following Harrison’s death.

Foote was in the right place at the right time and for now CSX and its shareholders will let him sit at the throttle and take the EHH train a little further down the line. But it is Harrison’s train orders that Foote is following and not those Foote wrote himself.

Shareholders can be a fickle lot. Just this week Canadian National, a railroad described in most circles as highly successful, pushed out CEO Luc Jobin after the company hit a rough patch.

What I see happening at CSX is that management is trying to walk a fine line between pleasing investors and shippers and keeping at bay a few interested bystanders who have the ability to make life easy or miserable for a company.

Cost cutting and asset sales will only take a company so far in that endeavor. Of course growing traffic makes everyone happy, but is CSX prepared to spend the time and money needed to make that happen. It is so much easier to sell property and lightly used rail routes.

In theory, a company exists to serve its customers because without them you don’t have a company. But theory also says that a company exists to make money for its shareholders.

The two objectives are not necessarily in opposition. Arguably, you can’t make money for shareholders unless you provide a product or service that someone is willing to buy.

But you can’t improve your product or seek to sell more of it without spending money on that, too.

Management has always existed to reconcile those sometimes opposing forces.

The history of the railroad industry is filled with tales of financiers milking companies and leaving them behind. There is reason to believe that CSX is tilting toward enabling the financiers to make a financial killing before moving on to something else.

To quote a line from the John Mellencamp song Peaceful World, “These are just words and words are OK. It’s what you do and not what you say, if you’re not part of the future then get out of the way.”

We will know in time what the future of CSX is but take with some healthy skepticism how CSX projects that to the world.

Supreme Court Won’t Take On-Time Case

February 28, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request by Amtrak to review a lower court decision that found the Surface Transportation Board cannot assume regulatory authority that is granted to Congress.

The high court’s decision means that a last effort by the federal government to revive the delegated authority will be decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a July 2017 decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the STB lacked the authority to establish regulatory standards for “on-time performance” in exercising its power to require freight railroads to give “preference” to Amtrak trains. See, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Surface Transportation Board, 863 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 2017).

The Union Pacific case was one of two in which courts considered challenges to a portion of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

That law delegated to the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the joint power to establish metrics and standards to define “on-time performance,” and gave the STB power to penalize railroads that fail to meet the standards.

The other case was Association of American Railroads vs. U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the latter case, the railroad trade organization challenged the joint FRA/Amtrak authority as an unconstitutional delegation of governmental power to Amtrak because it is a for profit entity.

The appellate court in that case sided with the AAR, ruling that the law constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause to give Amtrak, “an economically self-interested actor,” the power to regulate its competitors.

Following that decision, the STB sought to establish the on-time standards itself, which led to the Union Pacific case.

The district court in Washington has set oral arguments for March 5 in what remains of the AAR case.

During that hearing, the federal government and Amtrak will be seeking to have the court reinstate the joint rule-making authority of the FRA and Amtrak by narrowing the court’s previous decision and striking down only a portion of the offending PRIIA provision.

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.

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.

CN Led Traffic Growth in 2017

January 9, 2018

Canadian National led all North American Class 1 railroads in 2017 in traffic growth.

The Montreal-based carrier posted a 10.4 percent increase in carload and intermodal traffic, which was more than double the industry average.

The figures are based on data compiled by the Association of American Railroads, which said that on an industry-wide basis North American rail traffic rose by 4.8 percent in 2017.

Last year, CN saw an increase of 16 percent in its intermodal business and 9 percent in merchandise traffic.

In second place was BNSF, which saw its traffic rise 5.4 percent, much of it fueled by a growth of 6 percent in intermodal and coal business.

Kansas City Southern finished third in the traffic growth derby with 5.2 percent growth in traffic, most of it in merchandise business, which was up 9 percent.

Norfolk Southern had growth of 4.9 percent, much of it coming from intermodal traffic. Canadian Pacific had traffic growth of 4.4 percent, much of it potash and frac sand traffic.

At Union Pacific, traffic was up 2 percent, based largely on coal and frac sand.

CSX was the only class 1 to see traffic decline, by 0.2 percent. Carload traffic at CSX fell by 1.4 percent while intermodal dropped by 2.2 percent.

Additional UP Salad Shooter Trains Coming

October 28, 2017

Union Pacific Cold Connect is adding additional eastbound trains from terminals in California and Washington to Northeast destinations starting Oct. 31.

The new trains will depart on Tuesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. PDT and offer seventh and eighth day availability at Northeast terminals.

UP said that loads must be received into Cold Connect terminals at Delano, California, and Wallula, Washington, by 10 p.m. PDT the evening prior to train departure. Any loads arriving after that time may be rescheduled to the next available train.

Load tenders must be received 24 hours in advance of pick-up appointment.

A minimum of 24 hours lead time is required for full-truckload orders shipping out of Rotterdam, New York, for final delivery. This includes changes to any existing sales order.

All less-than-truckload orders will require 48 hours notice to ensure truck availability.

Schedules on westbound Cold Connect trains departing Rotterdam, New York, are not affected by the expanded service.

Cold Connect trains are conveyed to Chicago by UP and handed off to CSX, typically running through to New York with UP motive power.

More Potatoes Coming to ‘Salad Shooter’

September 14, 2017

The westbound Cold Connect train passes through Conneaut on CSX rails.

One of CSX’s most distinct trains may be adding some more business.

Dubbed by some railroad crew members and railfans as the “salad shooter,” the dedicated train of perishables from the West Coast has been seeing its business grow.

Union Pacific and the East Idaho Railroad (owned by Watco Companies) are upgrading facilities used to move Idaho potatoes to eastern markets.

The East Idaho has seen an 18 percent growth in potato shipments this year and is leasing 20 refrigerated cars that will be outfitted with special racks and rollers to help move the produce.

Officially known as Cold Connect – a name change from the Food Train – the service begins on UP in Wallaula, Washington, with refrigerated cars of produce.

The train picks up the potatoes from the East Idaho in Pocatello, Idaho. UP interchanges the train to CSX at Chicago where the cars are transported to Syracuse, New York, and Rotterdam, New York.

The planned improvements in Idaho are designed to make Cold Connect more competitive with trucking and enable the service to increase in operations to four or five trains per week.

Some cars are being interchanged to Norfolk Southern in Chicago and routed to other destinations.

STB Finds 4 Class 1 RRs Revenue Adequate

September 7, 2017

Four Class I railroads were revenue adequate last year, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board has determined.

That means that Norfolk Southern, BNSF, Union Pacific and the Soo Line (the U.S. subsidiary of Canadian Pacific achieved a rate of return on investment equal to or greater than the Board’s calculation of the average cost of capital to the freight rail industry.

The STB determined that the 2016 railroad industry cost of capital was 8.88 percent. The revenue adequacy figure was calculated for each of the Class I freight railroads in operation as of Dec. 31, 2016, by comparing this figure to 2016 ROI data obtained from the carriers’ Annual Report R-1 Schedule 250 filings.

The Class I ROI figures were: BNSF, 10.11 percent; CSX, 8.62 percent;  Grand Trunk (including U.S. affiliates of Canadian National Railway), 8.60 percent;  Kansas City Southern, 6.23 percent; Norfolk Southern, 9.20 percent; Soo Line, 9.58 percent and Union Pacific, 13.39 percent.