A Simple Job for the New Guy.
A few days ago, the business and trade media was full of the news that the new boss at CSX, Hunter Harrison, had in effect torn up the latest potential agreement for his railroad to accommodate a resumption of passenger train service between New Orleans and Orlando. As I guess we all know, prior to Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated between those cities three days a week in each direction.
Ever since that terrible, devastating storm, there have been petitions from numerous sources for a resumption of passenger service in some form. That resulted in an investment of half million dollars by the U. S. Department of Transportation to fund a study, which triggered any number of meetings and reports and negotiations, not to mention a special inspection train traveling the proposed route.
The assumption going in was that CSX, over whose track the new service would be operating, would be required to make improvements to accommodate passenger service, meaning somewhat higher speeds and enhanced signaling. The issue immediately became how much will all that cost and who’s going to pay for it.
CSX started out saying those costs would amount to $2.3 billion dollars. After considerable back and forth, that number had been reduced to $800 million and, from what I hear, proponents of the new rail service were optimistic that there would be an ultimate agreement.
Enter Hunter Harrison. Thanks to whatever it is that hedge funds do, he has taken control of CSX and assumed the role of CEO. Among his first official acts was to trash the earlier agreement and say, in so many words, “You want us to handle your passenger trains? OK, but it’s gonna cost you 2.3 billion bucks. Take it or leave it.”
May I now refer you to an article in the current issue of TRAINS magazine, in which CSX reports that Hunter Harrison has apparently taken personal charge of the CSX operation and, with one hand tied behind his back, has transformed what was evidently a stodgy and inefficient operation into a lean, mean freighting machine. Follow the link to that story and you will find CSX underlings heaping praise upon their new leader in a manner reminiscent of President Trump’s first cabinet meeting.
All of which leads me to state the obvious: if Harrison is able to restore efficient operations to a huge Class I railroad in two short months, he surely should be able to find a way to accommodate two passenger trains a day.