If it looks like there are more locomotives parked at the Huntington CSX shops, it’s because there are. CSX is reducing the size of its active locomotive fleet as it adapts to how it runs trains and to customer demand.
Huntington is one of several places where CSX is storing its inactive locomotives, said Cindy Schild, director of media relations and public affairs for CSX, in a recent email.
“CSX is strategically storing locomotives across our network. Huntington is one location where we have stored and retired locomotives. These locomotives may be returned to service as the need requires,” Schild said in a recent email.
“During the CSX 2020 4th quarter earnings call, Jamie Boychuk, our EVP of Operations said that back in 2017, we started to look at our assets and locomotives in particular. He did mention that we had almost 4,000 locomotives in 2017 and ﬂeets are now down to approximately 2,150. We have hundreds of locomotives in storage, ready to pull out when needed. But, we’re also continuing to invest in our locomotive ﬂeet. We are using our capital to rebuild locomotives; 67 are planned for 2021 and this will continue going forward. Investing in the assets we have, allows us to add trip optimizers, distributed power, and improve fuel savings — as well as reliability.”
For several years, the Huntington shops have been active in CSX’s program of taking older locomotives apart down to the frame and rebuilding them part by part, usually updating their technology in the process. That work will continue, Schild said. A few years ago, the Huntington shop rebuilt a number of smaller four-axle locomotives. This year it will rebuild some of the 67 six-axle units, while some will be rebuilt by a vendor, she said.
The fact CSX needs fewer locomotives isn’t surprising given the change in its coal business in the past decade.
In its year-end financial report, CSX said it hauled about 19.6 million tons of coal. In 2010, it hauled about 43.3 million tons. That’s a drop of about 55%. Its coal revenues decreased about 57%, from $3.213 billion in 2010 to $$1.397 billion in 2020.
Norfolk Southern, CSX’s chief competitor east of the Mississippi River, is also seeing a decline in its coal business, and it has adopted a version of the precision scheduled railroading program that CSX implemented a few years ago under its former CEO, the late E. Hunter Harrison. Thus, it likewise has reduced its count of active locomotives.
The constant drip of news of this sort — the market for coal is collapsing, so West Virginia had better do something to prepare, but it isn’t — isn’t encouraging, but it cannot be ignored. If coal-friendly Donald Trump couldn’t bring coal back, what will Green New Deal-friendly Joe Biden do?
Biden’s executive orders regarding renewable energy and climate change direct federal agencies “to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.” We’ll have to wait and see what that means.