CSX continues to disappoint ag shippers

Firefighters try to extinguish a CSX engine fire in East Syracuse, NY, last year.

CSX still refuses to admit there’s a problem

Conditions are still not satisfactory for rail shippers, even after the Agricultural Transportation Working Group sounded the alarm on what they call problematic and deteriorating rail service provided by the one of the nation’s four major rail carriers.

In August, the 18 agricultural producers, commodity groups, and agribusiness organizations that make up the Working Group requested that the Surface Transportation Board (STP) actively examine the reasons for what the group sees as CSX’s subpar and degenerating service. In a letter they wrote, “We are concerned that CSX’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.”

The Working Group laid out several specific requests in the letter, including asking the STP to hold CSX accountable to meet specific, measurable targets for restoring service under its recovery plan, to explore ways to provide additional transparency, to promptly resume activity on existing Board proceedings related to enhancing rail competition, and to continue to press the railroad for its plan to rectify the harm it caused to its customers. The Group also asked the STP to demand that CSX restore service to levels that comply with its statutory obligations to provide reasonable service upon reasonable request.

A month later, twelve members of the Working Group sent a second letter to USDA officials asking the Department to submit comments in an ongoing small rate case before the STB. The letter outlined some of the transportation issues faced by agricultural industry firms, including capacity constraints, increasing rail rates and poor service, rail fuel surcharges and waterways appropriations.

Despite CSX’s claims that its railroad has never run more smoothly, shippers are still feeling the pain. Lisa Powers, distribution manager at chemical company Cristal, told Fox Business, “If anything, it has gotten worse…It’s a very miserable time trying to deal with them.”

Agricultural industry stalwart Cargill Inc. said last month it had to shut down for a shift at its Lafayette, Indiana plant because of railroad worker scheduling issues. This occurred about a week after the company had to shut down its Sidney, Ohio plant for two days due to a lack of empty railroad cars to load.

Chemours Co. , a chemical producer, claimed that CSX failed to provide scheduled service over half the time during the summer. The company said it cost them more than $1.3 million in supplemental shipping.

Food giant Kellogg Co. detailed its problems with CSX as well, which includes production delays at its Jackson, Tennessee plant due to rail car misdirection. The company avoided a shutdown by trucking in ingredients to the plant at triple the price of rail service, but it did have to shut down a North Carolina plant due to non-delivery of raw materials.

“The competitiveness of U.S. agriculture is increasingly dependent upon a myriad of troublesome transportation issues,” the Working Group wrote in its letter to the STB. “To maintain our ability to remain competitive in a very dynamic domestic and world market, and to be in a position to capture new market opportunities, the United States must address these serious transportation challenges.  

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