CSX weighs future of Chicago-area rail yard – Transportation News

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10 August 2017 | 10:30 am

CSX has nearly halved the workforce at its largest rail yard in the Chicago area and may shut it down entirely, as CEO Hunter Harrison continues to shake up operations.

In the last five days the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad has diverted trains away from Barr Yard in Riverdale and furloughed 62 of the 130 employees who work there, said a source familiar with the situation. Barr Yard is the largest yard CSX has here that handles rail-only shipments of commodities like coal or grain, averaging 1,991 rail cars for the week ended July 29. (CSX operates a larger facility Bedford Park, but there, goods move from trains to trucks.)

Barr Yard is the third-largest rail yard in the metro area.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said in an email that CSX was “reviewing its operations throughout the Chicago region” to improve freight movement “among CSX facilities and with partner organizations.”

“No decision has been made to close Barr Yard or any other CSX facility in Chicago at this time,” he wrote yesterday.

Harrison has shut down rail yards across the country since taking over CSX in March. He told Crain’s in April that he’d like to see freight diverted away from Chicago and its infamous rail congestion.​

Workers at Barr Yard are waiting to hear if the facility will be shut down entirely. So is Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, whose district contains the yard. Press Secretary Mary Paleologos said in an email that Kelly spoke with Tom Livingston, the railroad’s government affairs liaison, and is trying to arrange a meeting with another CSX representative for updated information.

Most of the freight that Barr Yard handled has been moved to yards run by Indiana Harbor Belt railroad or Belt Railroad of Chicago, the source said. Only a few months ago managers congratulated workers at the yard for a lack of delays. Then, two weeks ago, CSX pulled personnel and added three more trains to the schedule. The trains backed up. After the crisis, the cuts began.

“It was like a chess game, the way they set us up to fail, and then they blamed us for it,” the source said. “The yard has not been shut down yet, but the way things have been happening so quick, at the time we talk tomorrow, it might be. Every phone call I receive, it’s one step closer.”

CSX is the fourth railroad Harrison has run, and the industry veteran is attempting to implement his signature, profit-boosting “precision railroading” strategy. When he left Canadian Pacific in February, CSX’s stock price shot up from $37 to $46, hitting a high of $55.19 on July 12. Since then it has slid more than 8 percent to $50.63 amid reports of train delays and customers switching to East Coast rival Norfolk Southern.

Harrison sent a letter to customers apologizing for delays and blaming them on workers represented by the Sheet Metal Air Rail & Transportation Workers union. The union responded last week, saying workers weren’t at fault for service disruptions when management failed to communicate “about the significant changes being implemented almost daily.” Moreover, Harrison’s letter was “a kick in the gut and a severe blow” to employee morale.

Harrison’s critics say his strategy, which worked so well on long-haul lines like Canadian National, isn’t translating well to CSX’s dense web of track in the Eastern United States, said Fritz Plous, communications director at Chicago-based passenger rail developer Corridor Capital. But cutting Barr Yard does make sense, since the yard’s short tracks are obsolete and the work can easily be diverted elsewhere. The yard dates back to the turn of the last century, when it was operated by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

“A lot of the cutting he’s done has wrecked the railroad’s operations, but Barr is probably not in that category,” Plous said.

What closing the Riverdale rail yard does have the potential to do is add to congestion across the entire Chicago area, Plous said. Anytime trains are diverted “from one yard to another one, it could show up at a key junction at the same time as another one. Getting a train across Chicago requires a lot of coordination between railroads.”

Federal data says that for the last week in July, the average rail car took 32 hours to cross Chicago.



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