Hunter Harrison responds to Railway Age

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

CSX President and CEO E. Hunter Harrison, our two-time Railroader of the Year, reached out to me personally following publication of my blog, in this space, asking about the events at CSX since he took over the railroad. What I wrote was based solely on correspondence I received from various stakeholders. I promised Hunter that I would publish his response, unedited, and he could use as much space as needed:

 To the Editor,

A July 21 column in your publication starts with the question, “Hunter Harrison, what exactly is going on at CSX?” OK, fair question, and I’m glad you asked. Here’s the answer:


While I was disappointed with the inaccurate and anonymous comments in the article, I won’t spend time trying to address each of them. Rather I’ll give you a broad overview of the transformation we’re accomplishing at CSX through Precision Scheduled Railroading.


CSX is one of North America’s most-important transportation companies. We provide service to many of the United States’ largest industrial centers, and two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within our service territory.


You know that, of course, but I want to emphasize the point because it underscores the progress we’re making. To criticize my work over the short period in which I’ve been with CSX is fair game, but in doing so you disparage the efforts of the men and women working tirelessly to fully realize what we know this company is capable of achieving.


We have a great transportation network at CSX and a tremendous team of people who operate it, but to optimize the value of our network and provide service that will support our customers and enable them to be more competitive in the world economy, we needed to become more efficient.  Unraveling the complexities of our large rail infrastructure to achieve greater efficiency is no easy task, but our people are up for it and they continually show it in the effort they put forth and the results they deliver.


When I arrived at CSX four months ago, I saw a company with tremendous potential that needed only to refocus its energy on what we’re in business to do — move customer’s freight consistently, reliably and cost effectively. By virtually all measures, we have done exactly that, and in an incredibly short amount of time.


Our performance metrics have improved across the board, and we’re achieving on-time originations and on-time arrivals that we have never seen before on this railroad, and our railcar cycle times are achieving all-time lows across nearly all of our car fleets. We have lowered costs by transitioning many inefficient hump operations to flat switching, we are exploring opportunities to consolidate work facilities, we are balancing the network to eliminate delays caused by inefficient train meets, we are increasing frequency of service to customers, and we are transitioning some inefficient unit trains into our scheduled merchandise network to support improved asset utilization.


The majority of our customers, employees and shareholders are excited and fully engaged in what they see as a step-change improvement in what it means to run an efficient, cost-effective railroad. They understand that through the service improvements we’re making, we’re positioning ourselves to regain much of the freight volume that was lost to trucks over the past 40 years and drive top-line growth that will reward our shareholders and employees for decades to come.


But if there’s one truth about change, especially far-reaching, dramatic change, it’s that it will be met with resistance by those who had become comfortable in the status quo. Yes, there have been disruptions and challenges as we have implemented changes on our network, but those challenges are being met and overcome as fast as we’re creating a new model of efficient railroading.


We cannot and will not bend to the voices of people who resist change out of fear or failure to grasp the potential for a better future. As George Bernard Shaw famously noted, “Forget about the likes and dislikes. Just do what must be done. It might not be happiness, but it’s greatness.” And our mission at CSX is nothing short of determination to achieve the greatness that our tremendous rail infrastructure makes available to us.


That’s not to say we aren’t willing to listen to competing opinions and ideas. We are, and we do. But we will not be swayed by statements that you cannot say, as you admit in your column, “how much […] is accurate, or how much comes from people with their own agendas.”


We do have an agenda at CSX: to create a railroad that offers customers the best value of any provider in the industry and to do so safety and with a cost-efficiency that delivers value for our shareholders. Long term, our goal is to not only be the best railroad in North America but ultimately the best transportation company.


And remember this — we’ve only just begun. There were bound to be growth pains, and there may continue to be, but the path is clear and the goal is in sight. Thanks for asking, and next time feel free to reach out to me personally for insights prior to publication


E. Hunter Harrison

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