- Federal regulators are mandating that the four largest Class I railroads continue submitting biweekly reports on their progress to restore service, extending the requirement for another six months.
- Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern and BNSF must create new service targets that they expect to meet by the end of the next reporting period on May 6, 2023, the Surface Transportation Board said in an Oct. 28 announcement. The carriers will also be required to report weekly performance data using expanded service metrics such as first-and last-mile data.
- The STB said the extension is necessary because all four railroads are “unlikely to achieve all of their targets for service improvement at the end of the current temporary reporting period,” which ends Nov. 6. Recent performance indicators have also validated anecdotal reports from shippers of “significant service issues,” the agency said.
The STB said additional monitoring of the nation’s freight rail service is especially vital as shippers enter the fall harvest and holiday shopping season, saying in its final rule that “the coming months will be a critical time for the Four Carriers to demonstrate resiliency.”
Railroads have made some progress since the worst of pandemic congestion, with all four of the major carriers meeting or exceeding some initial service targets in recent weeks. But overall service levels continue to trend below pre-pandemic averages.
“Widespread service issues continue to affect the network, and the Four Carriers have not yet returned service even to 2019 levels,” the STB said in its rule.
Service targets are based on service performance indicators chosen by railroads, and include metrics such as terminal dwell and first-mile/last-mile data. Railroads still have to meet the majority of their targets based on their average performance over the last six months, the agency said.
Most of railroads are also behind on their hiring targets as labor constraints continue to be one of the largest barriers to restoring service. The STB said that only Norfolk Southern has met its targets for train and engine service employees.
While Union Pacific said it surpassed its hiring goals of hiring 1,200 transportation employees in September, the agency noted discrepancies in the data and found the carrier to be below targets based on its own calculations. Union Pacific and BNSF, which also had discrepancies in its labor data, will be required to submit more uniform data going forward.
Union Pacific was also the only railroad where all of its performance indicator averages trended below pre-pandemic levels, according to the STB. The railroad said in an emailed statement to Supply Chain Dive that the STB’s calculation for performance and workforce doesn’t allow for “an apples-to-apples” comparison, and that performance for key metrics “remain consistent and near our best levels since April.”
Union Pacific also said in its statement that it has surpassed its hiring goals despite the STB’s calculations. The railroad said it has hired 1,400 new transportation employees, and that its workforce numbers represent full headcount.
“We’ve made real progress to increase network fluidity and better meet customer demand; however, we’ve been very upfront that the work isn’t finished, and we remain laser focused on crew, locomotive and freight car initiatives,” the railroad said.
Correction: This story has been updated to better reflect Union Pacific's explanation for discrepancies in workforce data.