Service failures prompt federal regulators to closely monitor CSX

Surface Transportation Board requests weekly conference calls
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Growing concerns about service problems at CSX Transportation have prompted the Surface Transportation Board to ask the railroad’s senior executives to begin weekly service calls with federal regulators.

In a letter to CEO E. Hunter Harrison, the three STB commissioners said on Thursday that they wanted to closely monitor CSX’s performance so they could better understand the “scope and magnitude” of the service problems and how the railroad plans to fix them.

Shippers have filed informal complaints with the board regarding the deterioration of CSX’s service from April through June, which coincided with broad operational changes Harrison made while implementing precision scheduled railroading.

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

Federal regulators also have been notified of delays related to congestion at the St. Louis and New Orleans gateways. CSX’s performance metrics show that trains are moving more slowly and cars are spending more time in yards, while the number of cars online has increased.

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

Shippers were caught off guard by the service changes, the board said, and didn’t have the lead time required to adjust their supply chains.

“We are very troubled by the apparent lack of communication with customers and urge your immediate attention to remedy this situation,” the commissioners wrote.

The board asked CSX to begin weekly service calls with its Rail Customer and Public Assistance staff, the office that quietly handles disputes between railroads and their customers. The commissioners asked that senior-level members of CSX’s operations, service design, marketing, and customer service staff participate in the calls.

The letter came on the heels of a meeting this week between STB officials and senior CSX officials.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the railroad would provide the STB with the information it has requested.

Railroad executives have acknowledged service failures as CSX rolls out precision scheduled railroading.

“There’s going to be a little pain and suffering,” before operations are smoothed out, Harrison said on the railroad’s earnings call last week.

But he later added that talk of service issues had been exaggerated.

“This service disruption has been way overplayed,” Harrison said. Out of the 500 or so customers who provide 90 percent of CSX’s traffic, only two could make the case that they have experienced a “major disruption,” he said.

Some CSX shippers shifted a small amount of traffic to Norfolk Southern as a result of service disruptions, NS executives said this week.

Chemical shippers told Trains News Wire last week that they had experienced a range of service failures and that problems seemed to be growing worse.

Harrison’s operating plan aims to cut transit times by reducing the number of times cars are handled en route. As a result, the railroad modified its service plan and idled the humps at seven of its 12 hump yards.

Read the Surface Transportation Board letter.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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