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STB may seek to continue collecting expanded railroad performance data

By David Lassen | July 20, 2022

Some numbers now being gathered are ‘extraordinarily informative,’ board member says

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Man speaking at podium
Man speaking at podium
Patrick Fuchs of the Surface Transportation Board speaks to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers at Lake Geneva, Wis., on Tuesday, July 19. (Trains: David Lassen)

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — Some of the more detailed metrics the Surface Transportation Board has begun collecting as it tracks the rail industry’s service issues could become part of the STB’s regular regulatory oversight, board member Patrick Fuchs said Tuesday.

“I do think that some of the service numbers that we have collected are extraordinarily informative — a vast improvement to what we were previously collecting, and have merit for incorporation into our broader regulations,” Fuchs said in an appearance at the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers summer meeting. “I also think we should think about the types of information that is available to shippers that they can use in their ordinary course of business.”

Whether the detailed employment information the board is currently receiving from railroads would be part of such a change is another matter.

“In this particular interest, we stepped up the focus on labor levels, because it’s so tightly wound up with the service problems,” Fuchs said. “But that’s not to say that every future service problem will be a labor issue. And because we don’t directly regulate labor, there is a question of how much granularity we want going forward, particularly on things like training classes and other things.

“But we do collect monthly employment levels, and to the extent those could be enhanced going forward, I think it’s something we would take a hard look at.”

The merit in the more detailed metrics may well be illustrated by the way they are being used, and not just by the board.

“I have seen these numbers be used in quarterly earnings calls, and in regular analyst reports, that I know that a number of executives are responsive to and listen to,” he said. “So to the extent that the information that we are collecting and providing to the public helps markets make better decisions … that now markets have better insight into rail carrier reliability, and what that could mean for eventual volume growth, that’s the exact type of thing that we were trying to facilitate.

“We can’t order our way out [of the problems], but one thing we can do is provide markets and shippers better information to hold people accountable.”

That expanded employment data allows the board, and by extension the public, to see “what the size of their training class is; how many people are dropping out of training; how many people are graduating from training,” he said. “So every step of the way, on employment, we know how many people they’re adding, and then there is a lag before that can dig out, and then there is an improvement.”

Based on all that information, Fuchs said, “we are months away from fluidity, and that concerns us with harvest coming up. But I think we are on a trajectory [for improvement] when you look at those training classes.”

Board looks at NS operating plan

Fuchs also said the board was looking at elements of Norfolk Southern’s new operating plan, which was addressed in the updated NS service recovery plan submitted to the STB in June. The plan known as TOP/SPG [see “Norfolk Southern rolls out new, intermodal-focused operating plan,” Trains News Wire, June 27, 2022] was mentioned in the initial service recovery plan railroads were required to file earlier this year. But the board sought more information.

“That is one area that we focused on and called out, that it’s not sufficient in your initial recovery plan to just mention an operating plan,” Fuchs said. “You have to describe it more fully. So if you look at the Norfolk Southern supplemental plan, they do start to explain the underlying logic and reasoning by business line of that TOP/SPG. And we have been engaged with them on that, because they’ve drawn that nexus to service recovery. So we are actually having active discussions with Norfolk Southern on the new operating plan.”

 

4 thoughts on “STB may seek to continue collecting expanded railroad performance data

  1. We do not want the STB to regulate based on the OR. If we allow it the railroads will subvert or start moving assets to give the appearance of, but not compliant with such an order. Waste of time.

    The government run USPO has no problems classifying delivery standards and charging appropriately and for the most parts of the country they can deliver, some parts they can’t.

    I could see the STB applying a similar set of delivery standards or classes of service, and then let the markets price them with shippers, and *then* look at compliance as compared to the new standards.

    If shipper A contracts for “Class A” type of service from say UP, and the STB finds that UP violated the service class 52% of the time and the other 48% of time it was a “Class B” type of service, then give the shipper a rebate for UP failing to meet the A standard and charge them a B rate for that 48%.

  2. Oh, by the way. While government (STB) can get in the way. Just ask Trains forum guy Greyhound about government interferance and ruination of new and improved situations.
    My point being if STB demands more information and then dictates rules that make sense for public service better served, So Be It. What we lack present day and age is (besides better customer service) is ACCOUNTABILITY. No more does the work ethic and attitude of common good permeate society. Ref. movie “Wall Street”: Greed is good. It’s sad that anything has to be mandated. But w/society as it is today, something has gotta change.
    Really, to the point of an earlier news article. Foster Farms needed relief of delivery of corn. Well, it just wasn’t about their profit/OR/etc. they feed a certain population of the USA. This then takes on a whole new perspective.
    I agree it ain’t easy, but I was just sayin’. endmrw0720220915

  3. Warren Buffett in a speech, pointed out how customer service is everything. As a former cs (customer service) rep. for an international company, I can attest to this statement. i.e. Dad had customer service in mind, however when son comes on board……not so. That’s why I quit.
    But. I digress. The Sage said, “Take Enterprise Car Rental”. The founder started out in the car rental business when Hertz and Avis were already established. He started w/17 autos to rent. Customer Service (cs) put him up against them all and look where they are now. That’s the only place I go to rent a car. Buffett said he tried to buy and couldn’t. He couldn’t go against the smart guy who depended on customer service to make his company so strong.
    Someone has commented elsewhere, if the owners, CEO’s etc. were long term focused on CS (just as much as HR and PR……oh let’s not forget dividends on stocks) the profits would roll in with increasing business from happy customers.

    But then there is a delimma for the leader of a RR. Reference example above of my being a CS representative. The company, Dad founded, the son inherited what dad had built. Present RR CEO, how do I retain my job and do what is best for the long term company interest, versis my “short term” employment. endmrw0720220902

  4. I wonder about this statement: ““We can’t order our way out [of the problems], but one thing we can do is provide markets and shippers better information to hold people accountable.”” Is Mr. Fuchs saying that under the umbrella powers the STB has nothing allows them to set an order for a minimum OR(operating ratio), if that’s the case then their powers are insufficient. If, however, they do have the power to issue such an order, then setting a minimum OR of at least 65 would help to alleviate some of the issues as that would directly result in increased spending on something(hopefully other than executive salaries).

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