Shippers say NS, CSX give poor service (railroads) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Shippers say NS, CSX give poor service

-- Homer Beanfang (, February 03, 2000


Saturday, January 29, 2000 Roanoke among top 7 troubled areas Shippers say NS, CSX give poor service

An NS spokesman said he didn't think the number of respondents was sufficient to get an accurate picture.


Roanoke's rail yards are among the worst bottlenecks on NS's system, which includes 54 terminals, according to a survey by a shippers' group in Washington, D.C.

Rail shippers, including chemical producers, also gave poor marks for service rendered by Norfolk Southern and CSX since the June 1 division of Conrail.

Both railroads acknowledge problems, but have insisted the situation has been improving.

Shippers disagree, however.

A survey by the National Industrial Transportation League showed that 33 percent of NS shippers rate service fair, while 62 percent rate it poor. Nine out of 10 shippers say service is worse since the split, and the same proportion say the top problems are lost or delayed shipments and poor customer satisfaction.

What's strange, however, is that the survey results contradict the railroads' records, said Ed Rastatter, director of policy with the National Industrial Transportation League. The railroad numbers seem to be getting better -- train speed and cars on line -- but customers are still complaining.

"How can both be true?" Rastatter asked.

The number of respondents -- 46 out of 184 polled -- was large enough to say there are still angry shippers out there, Rastatter said. Respondents named Roanoke as one of the top seven troubled areas. The others were Buffalo, N.Y.; Elkhart, Ind.; Chicago; the Conway yard near Pittsburgh; Decatur, Ill.; and the areas in New Jersey shared by NS and CSX.

NS spokesman Rudy Husband said he didn't think the number of respondents was sufficient to get an accurate picture. He told the Buffalo News, "I don't think that would pass anybody's margin-of-error smell test."

Service may have improved, but nowhere near the level once delivered by Conrail, which is what the railroads promised, said Mike Heimowitz, spokesman for the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Chemical shippers represent the second-largest users of rail in the country, behind coal shippers.

NS said it was 3.6 percent below its 1999 goal of 233,000 cars on line. For 2000, the railroad set a new goal of 225,000 cars on line.

Average train speed was 19.4 mph for the week ending Jan. 21, up 7.8 percent from 18 mph in November. NS's goal is 20.4 mph .

The average time a car spends at a terminal also improved, according to NS officials. "We met and exceeded the system's goal of 30 hours, and that's continuing to improve," said Susan Bland, spokeswoman for NS.

NS is leasing 150 locomotives to increase its ability to move more trains and the railroad has rolled out a new, centralized computer system, Bland said. This yard inventory system provides accurate, timely reports on cars and train movements. Nearly 60 percent of NS's system has this technology, and the remainder is expected to have it by the end of this year.

One chemical shipper who ships by CSX said the railroad is "still killing us in the Midwest" and that one plant is shutting down on a weekly basis, according to Heimowitz.

CSX spokesman Gary Wollenhaupt in Indianapolis said the railroad committed $70 million to $80 million to improve its capacity in critical areas such as Chicago and in the Northeast, and plans to move its cars more efficiently.

Another chemical customer who ships by NS in Pennsylvania and the Midwest said he sees "slow improvement in service, but trucking is still required." Trucking is more expensive to use, which is one reason shippers have said they would gladly return to rail if they were convinced they'd receive reliable service.

The transportation league said the average cost to each customer hit with delays or lost shipments was about $2.1 million.

Shippers also don't understand why the railroads won't commit to transit times, the time and number of days it takes to get freight from the shipper to the receiver.

"Our customers don't always want it faster and shorter. They want reliability and consistency," Rastatter said. Manufacturers rely on delivery times to plan inventory and schedule production. They can't hear from the railroads that their freight will be delivered in five days one week and three days the next. But the railroads won't commit, he said.

CSX, acknowledging the importance of this information, said it will work to improve consistency.

-- Homer Beanfang (, February 03, 2000.

From my experience, the biggest problem is that most tracks, especially those located inside an industry, are owned by a single rail line. That being the case, you have no competition. The rail companies know they have you by the b__lls, so you'll just have to wait. Unfortunately in most cases the cost of trucking is prohibitive, so lots of nail-biting in the transportation sector. We're close to shut down status at least once a month at our facility. Apologies are profuse, but nothing ever changes.

-- margie mason (, February 03, 2000.

Thanks Margie. What will it be like when diesel fuel costs go even higher?

-- Earl (, February 03, 2000.

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