The Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Oct. 28 ordered all Class I railroads to submit weekly performance and monthly employment data for six additional months, until May 5, 2023. BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern (NS) and Union Pacific (UP) must also submit biweekly service progress reports for another six months as well as an interim update, due Dec. 2, 2022, that covers performance and labor force targets and any service recovery plan modifications.
On May 6—a little more than a week after its April 26-27 “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service” hearing—the STB, voting unanimously, issued updated, more-comprehensive rules for reporting performance and employment metrics. The eight-part regulations, which mostly affect the “Big 4”—BNSF, CSX, NS and UP—included filing of service recovery plans by May 20, followed by frequent progress reports and biweekly conference calls with STB staff.
“The Board is requiring service recovery plans and progress reports from the four largest U.S. rail carriers and is directing those carriers to participate in biweekly conference calls to further explain efforts to correct service deficiencies,” STB summarized on May 6. “The Board is also requiring all Class I rail carriers to report more comprehensive and customer-centric performance metrics and employment data for a six-month period [beginning June 3]. In response to concerns raised at the recent hearing and related communications, the Board is taking this action to inform its assessment of further actions that may be warranted to address the acute service issues facing the rail industry and to promote industry-wide transparency, accountability, and improvements in rail service.”
The “Big 4” submitted the first week of required performance data on May 18. “The early data revealed extensive service delays and reliability problems,” STB explained in its Oct. 28 order (scroll down to view or download). “For example, one carrier reported failing—more than half of the time on average—to deliver railcars in manifest service within 24 hours of the original estimated time of arrival (ETA). … The same carrier reported failing—about one-third of the time in multiple operating divisions, on average—on its FMLM [first mile/last mile] service. … Another carrier reported failing—more than one-third of the time on average—to deliver grain and ethanol unit trains within 24 hours of the original ETA. … The early data also showed higher re-crew rates than those typically seen during periods of less network stress (i.e., approximately five percent).”
While the “Big 4” submitted service recovery plans on May 20, those plans “did not meet the Board’s expectations and, in some instances, openly failed to comply with the May 6 Order,” according to STB, which on June 13 ordered revisions. Those, too, were submitted.
“The most recent data show that the four carriers [Big 4] are currently meeting some of their six-month targets for service improvement, and many key performance indicators are trending in a positive direction,” STB summarized on Oct. 28. “However, the data continue to validate the anecdotal information that continues to be reported to the Board regarding significant service issues. Key performance indicators, such as velocity, terminal dwell, first-mile/last-mile (FMLM) service (i.e., industry spot and pull), operating inventory, and trip plan compliance show that railroad operations remain challenged generally, and particularly when compared to pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Accordingly, continued monitoring is needed.” (The “Big 4” will not be required “to continue to participate in individual biweekly conference calls with the Board’s Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance.”)
STB noted that while “not all Class I carriers are experiencing service problems to the same degree, the U.S. rail system is an interconnected network and problems in one geographic area can quickly spread elsewhere. The application of certain reporting requirements to all Class I carriers allows the Board to assess the current service issues across the entire rail network.”
For more details, view or download the STB order below.