If ever there were a human equivalent to liver and onions—hated or loved, but no in-between—it was the late Ewing Hunter Harrison III, a chief executive of four major North American railroads, personally synonymous with the term “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” and whose mention invokes often disquieting debate on theories of management and how best to deliver shareholder value in the short- and long-term.
E Hunter Harrison
Management at CSX are staying the course set by E. Hunter Harrison.
The late Hunter Harrison’s body of work “will likely be talked about in railroad circles for decades to come,” says Cowen and Company Managing Director and Railway Age Wall Street Contributing Editor Jason Seidl. “CSX’s Board of Directors will be under significant pressure to find a replacement with an operating background quickly.”
E. Hunter Harrison is gone. Railway Age’s twice-honored Railroader of the Year (2002 and 2015) died on Saturday, Dec. 16, in Wellington, Fla., from what CSX, the railroad that ultimately became the last stop in a long and distinguished career, attributed to “unexpectedly severe complications from a recent illness.” He was only 73.
COVER STORY, RAILWAY AGE, OCTOBER 2017: After “a very ragged 90 days,” CSX seems to be settling down as its CEO gives his Precision Scheduled Railroading one more go.
Is CSX emerging from what many observers, including customers, say is an operational and service meltdown created by a “too much, too soon” rush to implement Precision Scheduled Railroading on an arguably complex network? CSX President and CEO E. Hunter Harrison says “yes.”
According to numerous observers, CSX service continues to deteriorate, threatening to affect other railroads and, by extension, the economy. Some customers have taken to giving rail traffic to competitor Norfolk Southern. Others, without any other rail options, have moved over to trucks. And some have petitioned the Surface Transportation Board and the House and Senate committees with responsibility for rail transportation to get involved. Letters from all sides have been circulating on Capitol Hill.
The luster is fading from Hunter Harrison’s “Dr. Fixit” image faster than an old jalopy’s back-alley paint job. His boisterous March arrival as CEO of CSX put in motion warp-speed, backfiring directives changing culture, operating practices and marketing practices.
Hunter Harrison, what exactly is going on at CSX? I’m hearing lots of voices. They’ve become loud and frequent and as such are nearly impossible to ignore. They’re the voices of railroaders, from the executive to the train and engine service level. They’re former and present CSX employees. They’re people who have worked for you at other railroads. And they’re all saying basically the same thing: That the changes you are making at CSX aren’t the right thing to do, or aren’t working.
Now that E. Hunter Harrison has become CEO of CSX, “we expect additional layoffs in addition to the recently announced 1,000 members of management,” says Cowen and Company Managing Director and Railway Age Wall Street Contributing Editor Jason Seidl. “We also expect CSX to easily exceed the previous long-term operating ratio goal of 65% over the next few years.”