Grain shippers squawk about CSX service

In letter to railroad board, group of associations describe production shortages; emergency truckloads to poultry farms
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WASHINGTON — Agricultural shippers — who have had to curtail or halt production while waiting weeks for scheduled railcars to arrive — have provided some of the most detailed examples yet of service failures on CSX Transportation in a letter sent to federal regulators on Thursday.

The shippers said CSX has not been meeting its common carrier obligations to provide reasonable service, as required. And they are worried that CSX won’t be able to handle large harvests in the fall.

“We are concerned that CSXT’s already-chronic service problems may only worsen as demand for rail service increases during the fall peak season, which will include near-record grain and oilseed harvests,” officials with the Agricultural Transportation Working Group wrote the Surface Transportation Board.

The group represents 18 trade associations, from soybean, wheat, and corn growers to the producers of pasta, pet food, and baked goods.

CSX service began to falter in June and the problems now extend across the Midwest, Eastern and Southeastern states, the agricultural shippers wrote.

Yard closures have contributed to circuitous routings that send cars thousands of miles out of route. Shifting unit-train traffic into the merchandise network has disrupted supply chains. And loaded cars sit for days awaiting power and crews “due to critical shortages caused by CSXT’s precipitous downsizing of its assets and personnel,” the shippers wrote.

Among the service problems, according to the agricultural shippers:
Unpredictable and inconsistent local service and “extremely lengthy transit times.”
Loaded and empty cars dwelling excessively in transit.
Feed manufacturers and grain processors waiting several weeks for scheduled trains, which has forced plants to curtail or even stop oilseed processing.
Poultry producers, waiting weeks for feed to arrive by rail, have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to truck in emergency food shipments to keep birds alive.
Millers and bakers, particularly in Tennessee, have had to significantly reduce production due to inconsistent delivery of essential ingredients.

The shippers, while applauding the STB’s increased monitoring of CSX, asked the board to go further, including holding a public hearing and providing more detailed information about the railroad’s service recovery plans. They also asked the board to resume work on new rules that would permit reciprocal switching.

CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison has said that shippers ultimately will benefit from the implementation of precision scheduled railroading, which will make CSX’s service faster and more reliable.

Harrison, who took the helm in March, also said the railroad is working aggressively to fix service problems as it transitions to the new operating model.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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