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Page Updated 11/20/2021

A southbound CSX Transportation merchandise train exits Fort Montgomery Tunnel along the Hudson River on Oct. 14, 2021. (Bill Stephens)

CSX has not seen increase in complaints, is addressing crew shortages, CEO tells STB chair

WASHINGTON — CSX Transportation CEO Jim Foote has told federal regulators that while his railroad’s service is not where he’d like it to be, the company has not seen a spike in customer complaints and is hiring as fast as it can to alleviate ongoing crew shortages.

Foote was responding to Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman’s Oct. 18 request for explanations for ongoing service problems that range from missed switches and unfulfilled car orders to delayed manifest and bulk shipments [see “Federal regulators ask CSX to respond …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 19, 2021].

“Our customer solutions department has not seen a recent increase in service inquiries and we were not aware of informal complaints increasing to your public affairs office,” Foote wrote in a Nov. 2 letter that was posted to the STB website today. “We serve more than 5,000 customer facilities and to address issues we need to know certain key facts: when, where, and which customer facility.”

Oberman says the board has received “a steady stream of complaints” and wrote that he had “grave concern” with what appeared to be systematic operational problems at CSX.

But Foote wrote that CSX can’t fix problems it doesn’t know about.

“When we have issues raised by a specific customer, we’re able to constructively work towards resolution,” Foote added. “Effective solutions generally require collaboration and we urge our customers to contact us directly. Most customers don’t hesitate to let us know when there is a problem to be solved.”

CSX increased its customer solutions team staffing levels by 40% this year.

Foote defended CSX’s performance metrics, which in August 2019 were the industry’s best for terminal dwell, average train speed, and the number of cars not moving in 48 hours. CSX in August 2021 still held an edge over its big three U.S. Class I counterparts on dwell and 48-hour cars, Foote wrote, and had the highest average train speed in the East.

“CSX, like all businesses, has been impacted by regional COVID case surges and the supply chain challenges,” Foote wrote. “The CSX of 2019 would be a difficult comparison for any railroad.”

CSX is striving to return to its 2019 performance, Foote wrote, through a combination of increased hiring and operational changes.

“We have been undertaking these efforts despite substantial headwinds. The transportation industry is facing a particularly tight labor market with longer hiring lead times,” Foote explains. “Against this backdrop, we’re seeing high attrition rates during the on-boarding, training and first year of service for conductors. On top of this are the COVID cases which have been as high as 5% of the T&E workforce early in the year, although we’re below 2% today.”

CSX has seen improvements in hiring rates and will continue to hire conductors until staffing levels match demand, Foote says. The railroad has streamlined its hiring process, increased conductor trainee pay by 38%, advertised in 20 key hiring markets, launched a referral program for existing employees, offered incentives for mechanical and engineering workers to apply for conductor jobs, increased the size of conductor classes, and created incentive programs for current train and engine crews with good attendance records.

“On the carload side of our business, CSX continues to work towards the goal of delivering our customer freight in the most efficient and reliable manner,” Foote wrote.

The railroad has reduced the number of train starts by operating blended trains of intermodal, automotive, and merchandise traffic where possible. Trains are making fewer intermediate stops, running more often with distributed power, and with adjusted blocking plans that bring car flows in line with traffic patterns, such as changing auto volumes as assembly plants open and close amid the ongoing computer chip shortage.

CSX also has upgraded hump yards, extended some passing sidings, and staged locomotives at key locations to prepare for fall harvest.

“We are committed to assisting our customers and supply chain partners in overcoming the current supply chain challenges. We will continue to partner with our customers on growth and work with them to ensure their freight is reaching consumers in a safe and reliable manner,” Foote wrote.