The Agricultural Transportation Working Group is looking for a solution before the peak fall shipping season.
“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,” states the letter, which was signed by 18 national producer, commodity and agribusiness organizations.
The groups noted that U.S. transportation infrastructure — including freight rail — is an “essential component of U.S. agriculture’s world-class productivity and competitiveness, which contribute substantially to American job creation, U.S. economic growth and world food security.”
The letter outlined a litany of significant service-related problems experienced thus far by CSX’s agricultural rail customers. The organizations asked the agency to continue to press the railroad for its plan to rectify the harm it has caused to its customers over the past few months and to restore service to levels that comply with CSX’s statutory obligations to provide reasonable service upon reasonable request.
The working group expressed its appreciation for the STB’s action in sending its July 27 letter to CSX president and chief executive officer E. Hunter Harrison requesting that senior CSX railroad officials engage in weekly conference call updates with the agency's Rail Customer and Public Assistance Office.
“Recently, the board has received a number of informal complaints from shippers who rely upon CSX rail service,” the STB letter said. “These 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.”
A follow-up letter was sent Aug. 14 to Harrison expressing continued concern and requesting specific data addressing various service-performance indicators. However, the organizations urged the STB to take additional actions to facilitate the restoration of service before the peak fall shipping season.
“We respectfully believe that the gravity and widespread geographical nature of CSX’s service disruptions warrant further action by the (STB) to determine the underlying causes, the short- and long-term implications to rail customers, and the adequacy of any service recovery plan(s) being contemplated by CSXT,” the letter states.
Among several specific requests, the groups asked the STB to hold CSX accountable to meet specific, measurable targets for restoring service under its recovery plan, to explore ways to provide additional transparency regarding substantive information on CSX’s service performance that would be valuable to rail users in their logistics planning, and to promptly resume activity on existing board proceedings related to enhancing rail competition, particularly to replace the agency’s outdated rules governing reciprocal switching that could help alleviate some of the harm incurred by shippers captive to an incumbent railroad by enabling them to receive service from an alternative carrier.
In a recent quarterly earnings call, CSX chief executive officer Hunter Harrison said there’s going to be “a little pain and suffering” when asked about customer reaction to changes at the railroad.
“Well, we’re feeling the pain,” one high-level grain company executive told Milling & Baking News, a sister publication of World Grain. He blamed the problems “100% on new CSX leadership that doesn’t care about customers.”
Harrison apologized in a personal email to customers on July 31, and in part blamed the service disruptions on “pushback” by some employees to rapid changes instituted at CSX.
A spokesman for the union that represents CSX operations employees strongly disagreed with Harrison, saying “no one is more to blame” for the service disruptions than Harrison.
CSX is the U.S. third largest Class 1 railroad with 21,000 miles of track serving major markets in 23 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Its tracks are east of the Mississippi river with service to the West coast through alliances with western railroads.
To read the full letter, click here.