CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison promised “precision scheduled railroading” under his watch, but significant service problems by the railroad and the outcry from shippers seeking relief has pressed the U.S. Surface Transportation Board into taking action.
E. Hunter Harrison, who was named chairman and CEO of CSX in March, promised the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Class I railroad would implement “precision scheduled railroading” throughout its network, “a model proven to improve safety, create better service for customers, produce a proud and winning culture for employees, and generate exceptional, lasting value for shareholders.”
However, that objective so far appears to have fallen off the track, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board (STB) has taken notice.
The STB, which oversees domestic railroads on matters of competition and service, sent a letter to Harrison on July 27 warning that the railroad needed to clean up its act, and fast.
“Shippers have reported that CSX’s service deteriorated markedly during the second quarter of 2017, which coincided with CSX’s implementation of significant changes to its operating plan,” the agency wrote.
Specifically, rail shippers that rely on CSX have experienced increased and unpredictable transit times, loaded and empty railcars sitting at yards for days, unreliable switching operations, congestion at critical gateways like New Orleans and St. Louis, and a lack of “meaningful” customer service, the STB said.
“It appears that rather than doing proactive outreach, CSX puts its customers in the position of having to contact CSX’s marketing staff to learn the details of service changes after the fact,” the board told the railroad. “We are very troubled by the apparent lack of communications with customers and urge your immediate attention to remedy this situation.”
The agency urged the railroad to establish a customer service hotline phone number and provide frequent updates on its website.
The STB warned that CSX’s service problems have resulted in inefficiency in areas of its network such that some shippers have had to “curtail production, temporarily halt operations, and/or utilize other transportation options that have added additional expense and inefficiencies to their operations.”
The three STB commissioners – Acting Chairman Ann D. Begeman, Vice Chairman Daniel R. Elliott, and Board Member Deb Miller – have asked CSX to start weekly calls with the agency’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance staff to provide updates on how its current problems with route congestion, equipment and manpower availability, and customer service to rail shippers are being resolved. It further asked CSX to involve its senior management in these calls.