CSX’s Foote: Blaming PSR for rail problems is ‘nonsense’

By David Lassen for trains.com

CEO outlines ongoing crew shortages, need for changes in jobs

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — It just may be that CSX Transportation CEO Jim Foote is a bit weary of hearing about the evils of Precision Scheduled Railroading.

In his customary blunt style, Foote gave that impression Tuesday when speaking to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers about ongoing service issues for his railroad and the industry as a whole.

“Everybody says, oh, my God, he’s beholden to Wall Street,” Foote said. “Do you have any idea how much money CSX has lost because of our failure to move freight? Enormous amounts of money. This doesn’t benefit me. This doesn’t benefit the shareholder. This doesn’t benefit anybody.

“This is not the way any person would want to run the company. And that’s why we’re working so hard. Because if we don’t serve the customers, we simply don’t make any money. That’s what we’re here for.

“We need to do a lot of things differently, and it has nothing to do with principles of scheduled railroading. That’s just nonsense. We’ve been talking about that way, way, way too long. It’s just an excuse. It’s an excuse to blame the railroad management for something they intentionally did. It’s insanity.”

Foote, like many railroad executives, contends the ongoing problems are strictly a matter of crew shortages.

“If I had the decision to make over again … we would have never laid off an employee,” Foote said. “Never. But there was no vision of the future, there was no idea what we expected to encounter.”

The expectation, he said, was that the business would follow the usual cycle of layoffs and recalls it has used through past. This time, though, it didn’t work that way. Train and engine crews were cut from about 7,000 at the end of 2019 to about 6,000; when workers were recalled, that number increased to 6,800.

The railroad then hired another 2,000 people — but today finds itself with about 6,600 train and engine employees.

“We’ve hired 2,000 employees and we’re going backwards,” Foote said.

“We have an issue with retention. … Half of them, in the first six months, quit, many of them in the early days of when they’re actually called to go to work on a regular assignment, or for the first time when they realize they’re going to have to work on a weekend or a holiday, or on their kid’s birthday.”

While he says the situation is “beginning to stabilize,” he says the company must find a way to make its jobs more desirable — echoing a theme he made in May at the North American Rail Shippers meeting in Kansas City, when he called for better relations with workers [see “Foote calls for fundamental change …,” TrainsNews Wire, May 10, 2022].

“We need to provide employees with greater flexibility,” he said. “Is it a different kind of bid arrangement, where they can go work on this kind of job one day, and this kind of job another day — yard jobs, where they can have a regular assignment and work regular days off, and then the people that want to make more money can bid the road jobs.

“We need to understand and we need to communicate and work more with our employees, so we can change what clearly has become a frustrating environment them. If we’re going to be successful … we must have a happy, productive, unionized workforce.”

Foote also touched on the naming of a Presidential Emergency Board to address the ongoing dispute between railroads and unions over a new national contract.

“It’s very frustrating for me, it’s very frustrating for union leadership, and it’s extremely frustrating for our employees that it takes 2½ years for contracts to be renewed,” Foote said. “… It hasn’t been helpful with the retention issue that we’ve had. This could be one of the main rain clouds out there that will go away, and we’ll be in a great spot.”

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