UPDATE: Harrison bluntly dismisses shipper group’s concerns about CSX service

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CSX Transportation CEO E. Hunter Harrison fired back at a shipper group on Wednesday, saying that the Rail Customer Coalition was using the railroad’s service issues as an excuse to further its longstanding regulatory reform goals.

The coalition, an umbrella group for nearly four dozen trade associations representing manufacturing, agricultural, energy, and retail industries, on Monday urged Congress to prod the Surface Transportation Board to launch an investigation of what it called widespread service disruptions at CSX.

The coalition also asked Congress to push the STB to adopt new rules for reciprocal switching, a long-sought regulatory remedy that would allow a second railroad access to certain captive shippers.

Harrison said the coalition’s letter contained “many unfounded and grossly exaggerated statements...related to the service experienced by some customers as we implement Precision Scheduled Railroading, which has a proven history and long track record of delivering superior transportation services for customers.”

The shipper group did not bring its concerns to CSX before writing Congress, Harrison wrote, “most likely because your statements were made to advance your longstanding attack on the balanced approaches of the Staggers Act.”

Shippers will benefit from the new CSX operating plan, Harrison insists.

“The changes we are implementing today will deliver measurable improvements in key service metrics, resulting in our customers’ freight moving more consistently, reliably, and cost efficiently across the CSX network,” he wrote.

But he acknowledged that operational changes have produced service problems.

“In the midst of our efforts, there have been some unfortunate disruptions to our service, which we are addressing aggressively,” Harrison wrote. The railroad is addressing customers’ concerns while it works to improve communication with shippers, he wrote.

What CSX will not do, Harrison said, is talk about service with the Rail Customer Coalition.

“Since coalitions do not have service issues, we do not intend to continue a discussion with you about the service we provide to our customers,” he wrote.
Harrison did say that CSX would be happy to discuss “other completely unrelated topics like reciprocal switching, which are more central to your agenda.”

Harrison said CSX would continue to work with the STB, which on Monday ordered the railroad to provide detailed operations metrics every week so that it could better monitor its service recovery efforts.

“We welcome the engagement of the expert Surface Transportation Board staff and respect their authority,” Harrison wrote in his letter, which was addressed to the Rail Customer Coalition in care of Cal Dooley, who heads the American Chemistry Council.

Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, says that the Rail Customer Coalition’s letter was the result of broad agreement from the group’s members.

The shippers communicated directly with CSX about the service problems prior to the letter being sent to Congress, he says.

“Furthermore, these service issues have not gone away, which is evident by the fact that the Surface Transportation Board was compelled to send a second letter to CSX earlier this week expressing concerns with the ‘widespread degradation of rail service’ across the its network,” Jensen says. “This is yet another example of how important it is for Congress to fill the vacancies at the STB with members that understand that business as usual is no longer working.”

UPDATE: Comments form the American Chemistry Council. Aug. 17, 2017, 3:54 p.m Central time.

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