CSX Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison is currently on medical leave due to “unexpected complications from a recent illness,” the the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Class I railroad said in a statement Thursday.
CSX has named Chief Operating Officer James M. Foote as acting CEO in the interim.
“Hunter is a good friend and has been a colleague of mine for many years. He is an icon in the industry and we pray for his speedy recovery,” said Acting CEO Jim Foote. “I have been following the CSX story very closely since January, but did not realize just how much progress Hunter and CSX’s able team have made replicating the transformation we effected at Canadian National some years ago.
“I believe that the battleship has turned, the Precision Scheduled Railroading [PSR] framework has been put into place, and the company has amassed the critical talent – through education of the internal team and supplementation with a complement of strong PSR operating veterans and a strongly supportive Board – sufficient to follow through and execute on the PSR operating plan. Because the team has implemented a foundation consistent with Hunter’s vision, I do not see any reason to diminish our expectations concerning the pace and magnitude of our future progress,” said Foote.
Harrison, who is now 73 years old, was appointed CEO of CSX in March 2017 and immediately began implementing aggressive cost-cutting measures and operational transformation that resulted in widespread customer dissatisfaction and an investigation by the Surface Transportation Board (STB). His career prior to joining CSX included remarkable turnarounds at Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP).
The service problems, which started in May, stemmed from the company’s transition to Harrison’s transition to Harrison’s precision scheduled railroading model, which aims to do five things: improve service, control costs, optimize its assets, operate safely and develop employees.
However, 2017 was not the first year CSX experienced operational dissatisfaction. In 2013, the STB approved an operating easement, but reopened the proceeding in June 2016 in response to a petition alleging operational issues, including excessive train idling, gate malfunctions, and blocked crossings, the STB report said.
Consequently, the board ordered that CSX provide monthly operational reports, and the STB today said it would extend those reporting requirements for an additional six months.
Foote was originally brought in after CSX announced in October that three of its top executives – COO Cindy Sanborn, Marketing Officer Fredrik Eliasson and EVP of Law Ellen Fitzsimmons – would leave the company on Nov. 15. Foote took over the responsibilities of both Sanborn and Eliasson, indicating to many that he would be Harrison’s eventual successor. While Foote stated on Friday that it is too early to discuss succession plans, the company has yet to announce when they expect Harrison to return from medical leave.
On Friday, Foote noted that CSX’s on-time performance had improved, with average train speed up 19 percent and terminal dwell time down 13 percent compared to 2016. However, “there is still much more work to be done here, but, again, everyone is focused,” he said.
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