USA: After Slashing 33% of Workers in 6 Years, Railroads Complain about Labor Shortages

 
  don_dunstan Dr Beeching

Location: Adelaide proud
Major freight operators in the United States managed to cut their workforce by 33% over six years using "precision scheduled railroading" - but now they're looking for train staff and operators to come back they can't find them - from Wolf Street;

So there are few hiccups in the US economy right now. James Foote, the chief executive of CSX, one of the largest railroads in the US, put it this way during the earnings call yesterday (transcript by Seeking Alpha):

“I’ve never seen any kind of a thing like this in the transportation environment in my entire career where everything seems to be going sideways at the same time,” he said.

“In January when I got on this [earnings] call, I said we were hiring because we anticipated growth. I fully expected that by now we would have about 500 new T&E [train and engine] employees on the property,” he said. “No way did I or anybody else in the last six months realize how difficult it was going to be to try and get people to come to work these days.”...

...And this comes after railroads had spent six years shedding employees in order to tickle Wall Street analysts and pump up stock prices. The North American Class 1 freight railroads combined – BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Canadian National, Kansas City Southern, and Canadian Pacific – have tried to streamline their operations, using fewer but longer trains and making other changes, including under the strategy of “precision scheduled railroading,” implemented first by Canadian National, then by CSX.

The resulting deterioration in service triggered numerous complaints from shippers. But one of the big benefits was that the workforce could be slashed, which fattened the profit margins at the railroads. Wall Street analysts loved it, and it was good for railroad stocks. By now, precision scheduled railroading has become the new religion at all Class 1 railroads except at BNSF, which has not officially adopted it, at least not completely.

In the process, over the past six years, the Class 1 railroads have axed 33% of their workers through layoffs and attrition. According to the Surface of Transportation Board (STB), an independent federal agency that oversees freight railroads, the Class 1 railroads slashed their headcount from 174,000 workers in April 2015 to 116,000 workers in June 2021.

The results of the efforts to hire people back this year are barely visible in the chart – that risible uptick in employment over the past few months. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to cut workers than it is to suddenly hire workers:

Sponsored advertisement

  Carnot Minister for Railways

Same as Australia. I'm aware that some freight operators here are really struggling to crew trains.
  fzr560 Chief Train Controller

Same as Australia. I'm aware that some freight operators here are really struggling to crew trains.
Carnot

I thought employing traincrew would be just like employing truckies. Ring the labour-hire place and say "I'll have twenty, thanks".
  YM-Mundrabilla Minister for Railways

Location: Mundrabilla but I'd rather be in Narvik
Training, however good, cannot replace experience.
You need both and this does not only apply to engine crews.
  KRviator Moderator

Location: Up the front
Same as Australia. I'm aware that some freight operators here are really struggling to crew trains.

I thought employing traincrew would be just like employing truckies. Ring the labour-hire place and say "I'll have twenty, thanks".
fzr560
Some companies have tried that approach, and are now finding that Driver's have standards and won't work for sub-par operators. Typically, those working for labour-hire companies are those that cannot get a FT gig with one of the major players. I've noticed a distinct trend of even major companies advertising for a casual position at , then re-advertising it about 3-4 weeks after it closed initially, shortly followed by RailTrain/Trojan/Momentum advertising for Driver's at location .

I dare say the chickens are coming home to roost for operators, having tried for so long to drive a wedge between Ops and Management, and even between various grades of Ops staff as well, it is becoming an aging workforce of those that CBF trying something different but natural attrition thinning the Driver's ranks out naturally.

Attracting newstarters is the easy part, with every gunzel and his clipboard wanting to drive a big shiny train...however  retaining them is the challenge, when they've done their 5th nightshift with minimal sleep and come back on availbility each time. Why would you want to do not only shiftwork but railway shiftwork when you could earn similar $$ working from home or in other occupations where you don't have to get up at oh-dark-hundred?
  Fatty Deputy Commissioner

Location: Melbourne
Same as Australia. I'm aware that some freight operators here are really struggling to crew trains.

I thought employing traincrew would be just like employing truckies. Ring the labour-hire place and say "I'll have twenty, thanks".
Some companies have tried that approach, and are now finding that Driver's have standards and won't work for sub-par operators. Typically, those working for labour-hire companies are those that cannot get a FT gig with one of the major players. I've noticed a distinct trend of even major companies advertising for a casual position at , then re-advertising it about 3-4 weeks after it closed initially, shortly followed by RailTrain/Trojan/Momentum advertising for Driver's at location .

I dare say the chickens are coming home to roost for operators, having tried for so long to drive a wedge between Ops and Management, and even between various grades of Ops staff as well, it is becoming an aging workforce of those that CBF trying something different but natural attrition thinning the Driver's ranks out naturally.

Attracting newstarters is the easy part, with every gunzel and his clipboard wanting to drive a big shiny train...however  retaining them is the challenge, when they've done their 5th nightshift with minimal sleep and come back on availbility each time. Why would you want to do not only shiftwork but railway shiftwork when you could earn similar $$ working from home or in other occupations where you don't have to get up at oh-dark-hundred?
KRviator

I recently spoke to a member of the HR department of a major rail operator and they're desperate to retain their current staff as it's becoming too hard to recruit new employees. They told me that they have stopped advertising positions in some locations as it makes their "brand" look bad to be continuously looking for crew. It makes me wonder why HR haven't told Ops management o look after staff.
  fzr560 Chief Train Controller

Same as Australia. I'm aware that some freight operators here are really struggling to crew trains.
I recently spoke to a member of the HR department of a major rail operator and they're desperate to retain their current staff as it's becoming too hard to recruit new employees. They told me that they have stopped advertising positions in some locations as it makes their "brand" look bad to be continuously looking for crew. It makes me wonder why HR haven't told Ops management o look after staff.
Fatty
Perhaps HR, at management level, don't feel that recruitment and retention is really their problem. And HR is such an eighties acronym. Don't they call themselves the "People" team?

Sponsored advertisement

Subscribers: 7334, fzr560, KRviator

Display from: