CSX connects most major U.S. cities east of the Mississippi River. Since 2017, the railroad has laid off 6,000 employees, cut back on capital spending, and slashed the number of trains it runs and discontinued hundreds of the routes it serves.
Together CSX and Union Pacific serve major U.S. cities west of the Mississippi River and together they discontinued service on 197 out of 301 cross-country routes that the two rail giants partnered on in September 2017.
The results of these actions leaves shippers who want to send goods across the country no “direct” means to send a container by rail from Houston to Baltimore. Instead, CSX will take the container as far as Chambersburg, Penn. And the rest of the way will be by a container trucker going the remaining 77 miles to Baltimore. The same exists if the shipper uses Norfolk Southern. Norfolk will take the container only as far as Harrisburg, Penn. And the container will be transferred to a container trucker for the balance of the 76 miles to Baltimore.
Why would CSX owners do this when the need still exists? The cost cutting brings short-term profits and a soaring stock price. Between the beginning of 2017 and the end of this year’s third quarter, CSX labor expenses declined by 18% and the value of its stock rose by 106 percent. Rather than increase the price on its route, CSX can maximize profits and minimize capital and maintenance costs by cutting service in the aggregate. The cut in Labor cost is just an add on when compared to the cuts in Overhead costs.
Side Note: So much for common carrier and public utility laws. “The term utilities can refer to the set of services provided by these organizations consumed by the public: Coal, electricity, natural gas, water, sewage, telephone, and transportation. Broadband internet services (both fixed-line and mobile) are increasingly being included within the definition” while a “common carrier offers its services to the general public under license or authority provided by a regulatory body. The regulatory body has usually been granted ‘ministerial authority’ by the legislation that created it. The regulatory body may create, interpret, and enforce its regulations upon the common carrier (subject to judicial review) with independence and finality, as long as it acts within the bounds of the enabling legislation.”
E. Hunter Harrison is the man who figured out how-to pump-up profits by cutting service. Over the course of his career at the Illinois Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Railways; Harrison implemented his trademark program: “precision scheduled railroading.” Besides cutting capital (engines, cars, etc.) Overhead (maintenance of equipment, facilities rail beds, costs associated with Labor, etc.) and Labor costs; precision scheduled railroading means less service, fewer and longer trains, fewer routes, and ignoring some major cities.
Side Note: This is the same type of cuts in service many politicians and competitors of the USPS are pushing for today. Railways like the postal service are utilities and are vital to the community. The purpose of both mail and railroads was to provide a service as a public utility. Railroads being granted exclusivity for certain routes and governed by common carrier law. Someone is purposely asleep at the switch and abating the destruction of infrastructure.
Why would CSX cut service drastically? Hedge fund Mantle Ridge and founder and CEO Paul Hilal. Mantle Ridge had and still has only one investment, an initial $1.2 billion stake in CSX stock purchased in late 2016. The $1.2 billion is now worth nearly $3 billion as of the last quarter. In January 2017 with Mantle Ridge’s investment, Hilal pushed CSX to hire his partner Harrison and implement precision schedule railroading (nothing to do with schedules and more to do with providing service).
CSX agreed to Hilal’s demands. Shareholders salivated at the thought of Harrison boosting CSX’s profits right into their pockets and showed large support for Harrison’s leadership at CSX. Harrison saying that “shareholders took a much more active role than I’ve ever seen before. They wanted change.”
Of course, they wanted change at CSX for short term profits or rent taking. They will leave CSX a shadow of its formal self. The loss of the necessary infrastructure promoting the transportation of goods in the US will be born by its citizens in increased costs and impinge upon national security.
On a similar note and action . . . October 15, 2018 Sears faced a deadline for payment of $134 million on its debt. It didn’t have the money, so it filed for protection from its creditors. Eddie Lampert — the largest shareholder in the company, with nearly half its shares — stepped down as CEO. Another corporate pirate who will strip the assets of the company and leave Sears a shell of its former self.