CSX Train
© Wangkun Jia

CSX has updated its performance metrics – including the key criteria of train velocity, terminal dwell time and cars on-line.

According to the rail giant’s management, the new measures “better reflect end-to-end railroad performance” and show where opportunities for time saving exist.

However, the announcement comes at a time when the US Surface Transportation Board (STB)’ has requested that CSX provide performance indicators in the ongoing struggle to address problems from a drop in service levels.

The rail company has been under fire for the deterioration in service, which its critics have blamed on management’s efforts to implement “precision scheduled railroading”, which had been the hallmark of Hunter Harrison’s spells at the helm of Canadian rail giants CN and CP Rail.

Mr Harrison, who was recruited as CEO of CSX in the spring, is seeking to emulate the successes he had with the Canadian carriers and embarked on an aggressive revamp of the company soon after his arrival.

According to his critics, the service problems are the result of his changes, notably moves to double the length of trains, parking of equipment and shutting down of a number of hump yards. Mr Harrison has blamed resistance from employees to his reforms for the troubles, and assured customers that these would be overcome with the implementation of the precision railroading concept.

The STB appears not to be convinced by his reasoning.

Having asked CSX to address its service problems late last month, the agency sent a second letter on 16 August that expressed “continued concerns over widespread degradations of service” and requested that management submit a detailed schedule for the implementation of its new operating plan, including key aspects and milestones, by 24 August.

The STB also requested that CSX provide performance indicators, such as on-time departure and arrival of trains, car connection performance, equipment and personnel resources and problem logs produced for delays and missed switches.

The STB’s first letter to CSX was response to mounting criticism from shippers about delays and poor communication from the rail company about problems and steps to resolve them. However, there is also another factor, not related to cargo, that has prompted the agency’s stance.

According to some reports, the performance of Amtrak, the intercity passenger rail service, has been affected by the CSX problems in Indiana, where two Amtrak trains run on CSX tracks between Indianapolis and Dyer.

Meanwhile, shippers have continued to voice their frustration over CSX. The Rail Customer Coalition, which speaks for 64 shipper groups, sent a letter to Congress complaining that “chronic service failures occurring across the CSX network are impacting the entire north American rail network”.

Mr Harrison has dismissed this criticism as “unfounded and grossly exaggerated”.

Apparently, shippers are also voting with their feet. One recent survey found that 80% of the respondents had experienced service problems with CSX and 40% had given business to Norfolk Southern. According to another survey, 70% of respondents intend to shift business away from CSX and another 23% indicated that they may do so.