UPDATE: Chemical shippers say they continue to suffer from CSX service failures

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WASHINGTON — A majority of chemical shippers experienced significant service disruptions on CSX Transportation over the last two months, with delays forcing some plants to curtail production or divert shipments to truck in order to prevent shutdowns.

“While many companies report that service had improved since the summer/fall of last year, it is clear that service is still not where it needs to be,” Cal Dooley, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, wrote in a letter to federal regulators on Friday.

The trade group surveyed its members about CSX service in December and January. While certain companies reported that their service had improved since the height of CSX’s service problems in the summer, service has not returned to normal, Dooley told the Surface Transportation Board.

“While CSX’s January 13 letter to the Board notes ‘a remarkable rate of positive change’ and cites selected service metrics that exceed 2016 levels, few benefits of CSX’s operational changes have actually been realized by its customers,” Dooley wrote. “In fact, the vast majority of ACC member responses indicate that current CSX service is worse than it was prior to the implementation of precision railroading.”

CSX has told federal regulators that its trains are moving faster, cars are spending less time in yards, and that on-time performance and local service are both improving.

The chemistry council said one company has been forced to run a Midwestern plant at 90-percent reduced production due to erratic deliveries of raw material. Another company reported switching to trucks to prevent plant shutdowns in the Northeast due to a combination of bad weather and CSX delays.

In the Southeast, a company said that local switching delays and routing changes increased transit times by four or five days. A Northeast shipper said a shipment that normally would take 10 days to reach its destination instead took 55 days due to multiple delays on CSX. And another shipper complained of loaded cars sitting in outbound serving yards for a week or more.

The chemical shippers also complained of reduced local service and higher car demurrage and switching fees.

“Sadly, many companies fear that paying more for less reflects a ‘new normal’ for CSX service,” Dooley wrote.

CSX has been undergoing rapid and broad operational and management changes since last March, when E. Hunter Harrison was named chief executive and began implementing Precision Scheduled Railroading.

CSX executives have told federal regulators that they continue to focus on executing the operating plan foundation built under the leadership of Harrison, who died in December.

Shippers ultimately will benefit from faster, more reliable service under Precision Scheduled Railroading, CSX has said.

“CSX consistently strives to meet customer expectations and we believe that concerns about our service can best be resolved on a customer-by-customer basis and by focusing on a customer’s individual needs. It’s difficult for CSX to address complaints from anonymous sources, so we encourage any ACC company experiencing service issues to contact us directly," a CSX representative tells Trains News Wire in response to the shipper letter. "CSX finished 2017 with five consecutive months of improvement in velocity and dwell, while asset utilization and efficiency improved significantly in the fourth quarter compared to 2016 levels. Progress year-to-date continues to improve and is well above full year 2017 averages, while approaching near record levels for on-time originations, on-time arrivals, dwell, velocity and car order fulfillment.”

UPDATE: CSX Transportation statement in response to the chemical shippers' letter. Feb. 12, 2018, 12:54 p.m.

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