CSX CEO and President Hunter Harrison apologized to customers who came to a “public listening session” by the Surface Transportation Board on Wednesday in Washington to complain in person about poor delivery, inefficient routings and service disruptions.
Since he took over in March, Harrison has advocated what he calls “precision railroading.” To that end, he has closed CSX rail yards, removed nearly 900 locomotives and 60,000 freight cars from service, and laid off 2,300 people this year.
He told the board and his critics — including representatives from steel-producing and automobile companies, chemical and agricultural firms — that he blamed various issues for the problems, including internal errors, derailments and shutting down too many railyards. Harrison told the STB his strategy needs “fine-tuning,” and could include more layoffs and other yard changes.
Harrison said his strategy was crucial to his previous turnarounds of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co., and added the “best is right around the corner.”
“We’ve made some mistakes. This is not a failure of precision scheduled railroading,” he said.
He promised over and over to improve service.
The Surface Transportation Board has been reviewing the railroad’s performance every week, and has been an intermediary between CSX and unhappy customers. On Wednesday, it held what it called a public listening session to air the complaints and hear the railroad’s response.
After Harrison finished, the vice president of Cargill, Inc., a global company that deals in agricultural commodities, came to the podium. Brad Hildebrand urged the STB to ensure CSX returns resources to its network.
“In a nutshell, (precision scheduled railroading) means having to do with less,” he told the board.
William Scott, vice president of Collum’s Lumber Products LLC, spoke of changes to his delivery schedules to which he was not informed. He said CSX has a “total disregard for customer service,” that oftentimes phone calls are not answered and are not returned.
A representative of Chemours Company, a global chemical firm, said that the last five months have been an exceptionally tough economic time and that it wants the STB to intensely monitor CSX’s performance as it works to fix the issues.
Sharron Moss-Higham, senior vice president of operations and distribution snacks for Kellogg’s, said delivery has been totally inconsistent, especially at its large Pringles plant in Jackson, Tenn. Rail cars expected at one location often turn up at another, she said. CSX is the company’s lone delivery option and it has been unreliable, again with no communication from the railroad.
Costs over the last five months have increased by nearly 20 percent, Moss-Higham said.
The STB members and agency staff will next review the statements made during the session, which are part of the public record, STB media officer Dennis Watson told the Times-Union.