Railroad Snafugreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Former Conrail shippers vent anger at new carriers Participants at a shippers forum listen to railroad officials talking about problems stemming from the CSX and Norfolk Southern takeover of Conrail. Yesterdays meeting was in the Convention Center. (Michael S. Wirtz/Inquirer Staff Photographer)
By Henry J. Holcomb
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER About 300 angry shippers lined up at the Convention Center yesterday to protest the quality of rail service they said they have endured since Conrail was broken up seven months ago.
The targets at the government-mandated shippers' forum were Norfolk Southern and CSX, the Southern railroads that bought Conrail, the Philadelphia freight railroad, and divvied it up on June 1.
There were complaints about hog farms coming within a day of running out of feed, plants that had to be shut down, and a persistent inability to get information that businesses need to plan.
Robert McKelvey, speaking for an automobile-shippers' group, cited an example of his industry's woes: A rail car loaded with 1999 models, shipped on Oct. 15, mistakenly wound up in Canada and remains "stuck in its customs bureaucracy."
Clarence Gooden, an operations vice president at CSX, said his railroad would fix its problems by March 31.
Tony L. Ingram, general manager of the part of Norfolk Southern that was once Conrail, was less optimistic. "We are just now getting to the point where we can set goals. We don't know what we will be able to give you going forward," he said.
An angry Doug Kratzberg, rail manager for Exxon Mobil Corp., said: "If you're not going to be able to get back to Conrail service levels, you need to tell us that."
The CSX-Norfolk Southern problems are the third wave of merger-related rail service disruptions that have swept the nation, beginning with the 1995 Burlington Northern-Santa Fe merger in the West.
Union Pacific's 1996 takeover of Southern Pacific led to a collapse of Western rail service, leading to plant closings and leaving railroad crossings blocked for days.
Now, with Norfolk Southern and CSX still stumbling, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. has proposed yet another merger, with Canadian National Railway Co., that could trigger another wave of problems and leave North America with only two major railroads.
The forum yesterday was part of the federal government's oversight of the Conrail breakup. It was sponsored by the shippers' council that the U.S. Surface Transportation Board required the railroads to set up.
The speakers painted a picture of how rail mergers and the Conrail takeover have caused trouble for shippers. Computer systems of the railroads being combined didn't mesh, causing cars to be misrouted or even returned to the shipper still loaded.
Misrouted cars cause more traffic than the railroads have crews, locomotives, yards, track and cars to handle. Since railroad deregulation in 1980, the carriers have slimmed down their networks to increase profitability, eliminating tracks that once helped handle unexpected surges in traffic.
Delays have led to rail-car shortages that forced some shippers to put goods into costly storage while their customers went without things needed to keep plants running or merchandise in stores.
Initially, Norfolk Southern caused, by far, the most problems, shippers said. Then, after Thanksgiving, "the pendulum swung to CSX," as one put it, as CSX took advantage of Norfolk Southern troubles and took on more new business than it could handle.
Most representatives of shippers' groups and individual shippers who spoke yesterday complained of having to divert cargo to more expensive trucks. They said the rail problems had aggravated a serious driver shortage, adding to delays and costs.
Pat Harmon, of the Fertilizer Institute, and others complained of having to call top rail executives to get action on routine problems.
Mike Mattia, a spokesman for scrap-metal recyclers, complained of rail cars that got within a few miles of their destination only to be returned to the shipper still fully loaded, and of scrap delivered to rivals of the intended receiver.
"The railroads have been better at transferring blame than at transferring scrap metal," Mattia said.
Wade R. Smith of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., which prints magazines, television guides, and other time-sensitive publications in Lancaster, said that in December, only two of 170 cars carrying paper were delivered on time by Norfolk Southern.
"And we were billed for 50 cars that were not ours . . . Norfolk Southern knows these cars are not ours. This approaches fraud," Smith said. Walter B. Trollinger, a Norfolk Southern vice president, acknowledged the Donnelley problems and said a team was working on solutions.
Mike Heimowitz of the Chemical Manufacturers Association recited a long list of customer complaints, including cars delayed so long that their contents went bad.
But the big problem, he and others said, is widespread inconsistency of service that makes critical business planning impossible.
As Heimowitz put it, "the problems keep moving around."
-- Martin Thompson (Martin@aol.com), January 13, 2000
This break-up was planned well in advance. Norfolk Southern couldn't pull its head outta its butt on its own y2k woes, and you know Conrail getting disbanded just prior to rollover, no one knowing who would loose his job, no way could they have been at their height of motivation for remediation.hmmm.
-- Hokie (Hokie_@hotmail.com), January 13, 2000.
If it's that bad, how would we know if Y2K caused any problems?
I'm not going polly but it seems that Rail Switching is not working anyway. How much else is not working correctly but is working well enough that we're not directly impacted?
Here's a personal example. I switched medical insurance carriers last year. It's open enrollment time around here. Signed up for a new one in November, wrote the cancel letter to the old one at the end of December. I still haven't received my medical insurance cards from the new company.
I would not have noticed except that I got the flu (don't get too close.) and went to my doc and the drugstore. Saaaay, I don't have my insurance card, I'll pay you from my Y2K cash and will file the claim myself.
This isn't a big deal except that I should have received paperwork from the new insurance company a month ago. We're entering a period in which lots of little things are going wrong.
-- cory (kiyoinc@ibm.XOUT.net), January 13, 2000.
You are going polly Cory. I'd spray you with Hartz Polly-Be-Gone, but since you have the flu it might not be a good idea (complications, side effects and all of that stuff).
-- Butt Nugget (email@example.com), January 13, 2000.
From what I've been told (apocryphal, unverified) by some delivery drivers in the vicinity, Norfolk Southern didn't need Y2k to screw up the works totally -- they did a real good job all by themselves.
-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), January 13, 2000.
Everybody gets on the train. So what if they get dropped off at the wrong stations? They got taken to a station, they got there alive, and the sun still rises in the east. So what's the big deal about anyway?
If it's flu season, and everyone gets someone else's prescription, chances are most folks will get flu medicine anyway. So what's the big deal? And if someone does get the wrong medicine and it kills them, again, what's the big deal? No one lives forever, right?
Besides, all that things like that would *really* prove is that the system is *remarkably* resiliant, and continues to work regardless of minor problems.
It's not important that the place that ordered -- and paid for -- the steel gets the steel. What's important is that most of the steel gets to a place that generally receives steel.
Stop trying to make mountains out of molehills.
-- Ron Schwarz (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 13, 2000.
Bad for the train industry, good for the trucking industry - Just rearrange the dominoes a little bit.
What pisses me off is the train executives getting paid so much when an ape could do just as well making decisions with a dartboard.
-- Guy Daley (email@example.com), January 13, 2000.
I don't recall seeing any claims by the railroads that they were compliant. According to the post above, there are indeed serious consequences to this.
1. "Most representatives of shippers' groups and individual shippers who spoke yesterday complained of having to divert cargo to more expensive trucks. They said the rail problems had aggravated a serious driver shortage, adding to delays and costs."
I can tell you from the CB that almost all truckers fudge their log books, claiming they got their legally mandated 8 hours of sleep, or that they didn't exceed their limit of 600 miles a day. They have nothing to do while driving but bitch about their lives to each other on the radio, and one of the most common stories is that they are told by their bosses at the trucking firms- under the table, off record- that the logs are BS and they WILL go 750 miles or take two loads in 24 hours, etc. Look for signs of a strike, fairly soon.
"There were complaints about hog farms coming within a day of running out of feed, plants that had to be shut down, and a persistent inability to get information that businesses need to plan."
I can imagine a 10,000 hog operation in eastern NC running out of feed for 2 days (havoc) 3 days (disaster) 4 days (mass slaughter of hogs, probable bankruptcy).
"Delays have led to rail-car shortages that forced some shippers to put goods into costly storage while their customers went without things needed to keep plants running or merchandise in stores."
What storage? The move to JIT systems has caused the warehouse districts of large cities to be torn down for condos. The track in Durham, NC next to what used to be the RJ Reynolds plant has decayed to the point of unusability.
"But the big problem, he and others said, is widespread inconsistency of service that makes critical business planning impossible. "
Exactly. The trains were always supposed to be the achilles heel of Y2K. That the US has allowed its rail system to deteriorate to this point is symptomatic of our long-term strategic ineptitude, now they expect the rail system to substitute for the Panama Canal in the event of a two-front mobilzation. (Say what??) You cannot take Abrams tanks or Bradleys on the interstate, they are too large and the weight destroys the pavement in one pass.
"Everybody gets on the train. So what if they get dropped off at the wrong stations? They got taken to a station, they got there alive, and the sun still rises in the east. So what's the big deal about anyway? "
-- Forrest Covington (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 13, 2000.
Read RON's statements twice. I'm sure he had his tongue in his cheek.
-- Tommy Rogers (Been there@Just a Thought.com), January 13, 2000.
Are they going to say what's Y2K and what's not? I don't think so. This article is helpful in that we know there are significant problems. Now if even half is Y2K, or one-quarter, it's interesting.
-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), January 13, 2000.
There aren't enough trucks in the world to haul the tonnage of coal that moves east out of Wyoming every day.
-- Tom Carey (email@example.com), January 13, 2000.
I live less than a mile from the main line of the CSX going from Washington to Harper's Ferry WV, and then on to the Ohio valley and points west. In ordinary times 3- 4 trains per hour travel along this line, but since the rollover up until night before last, there was virtually no traffic along this line, other that the commuter train traffic. This lack of traffic was also posted last week by someone who lives in Brunswick Md, which is also on this line.
But night before last, there were trains running steadily and regularly.
This is good news since this is the line that delevers the coal to my power provider.
I don't know about the daytime, because I can only hear the trains at night.
-- dave (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 13, 2000.