CSX's brand new thing

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, March 26, 2015
Very seldom does a railroad do something totally new and unprecedented. Well, it's happening now at CSX Transportation. Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday it rejiggered almost all of its daily manifest trains to run six days a week instead of seven. That's not new, of course. What is without precedent is how CSX is accomplishing it. 
Let me give you an example. Train Q410 runs between Waycross, Ga., and Selkirk Yard near Albany, N.Y., starting with its scheduled 10 p.m. departure from Waycross. On Friday, Q410 and other affected trains will run on their usual schedules. But on Saturday they all originate four hours later, as L trains (L410 in this example, leaving Waycross at 2 a.m. Sunday). The next origination is four hours later as R-series trains, the next one four hours later as S trains, then X trains and finally I trains, yes, four hours later each time. Then it starts anew. 
CSX thus moves the same amount of traffic in roughly 15 percent fewer train miles, 15 percent fewer locomotives, 15 percent fewer crews. Unaffected would be intermodal and automobile trains and so far as I know, unit trains. 
The beauty is that as they originate progressively later through the week, they reset their schedules together and in theory make all their connections at classification yards.
If it works, this should achieve noticeable savings for CSX, lowering its operating ratio, expanding its profits and stock price and possibly keeping it out of the clutches of corporate raiders the likes of Bill Ackman. It will also be a tremendous achievement for Cindy Sanborn, the railroad's chief operations officer. 
But will it? Terminals have the technology to keep track of this changing daily dance. The scheme creates more locomotives and crews to run the trains. The danger, as I see it, is that CSX is adding new and untested complexities to a network that is already quite stressed in places. If the terminals cannot take the trains as they arrive and cannot make the scheduled connections, the risk is, well, something like a total meltdown. 
That is not an outcome I am predicting. Let's see how it goes. While we await the outcome, let's salute CSX for creating something new under the sun.--Fred W. Frailey
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