CSX Transportation Inc., which has been struggling to reduce its costs, has won the right to cut its train crew sizes from four to three on almost every mile of its 18,800-mile system.
By winning the United Transportation Union's permission to cut one brakeman from its train crews, CSX has caught up with most of its major railroad competitors, according to Jeffrey Medford, who follows the rail industry for Wheat First Securities in Richmond, Va.
As recently as 18 months ago, Richmond-based CSX had an average of 4.3 workers on each train, Mr. Medford explained. Since that time, he said, the "three-man crew has become the standard for the industry." Both Conrail and Norfolk Southern have cut back to three-worker crews, he said.
Though CSX's expected annual labor cost savings of about $15 million "is very small" compared with CSX's $2 billion annual transportation budget, "this gives them the ability to try to really compete with truck traffic," Mr. Medford said.
Dannie Strickland, director of employee relations for CSX, said that the eliminated brakemen's jobs paid about $35,000 a year, but that the
remaining crew members will get extra money for picking up the tasks of the fourth crew member.
"We have felt for a long time that the job was in excess," of what was needed to move CSX's 60-car freight trains around the Eastern seaboard, Mr. Strickland said.
And eventually, Mr. Strickland said, the company hopes to win permission to cut some crews to only two workers.
In an agreement ratified Tuesday, the UTU local representing the region from Virginia to Florida permitted CSX to cut a brakeman from crews serving the region.
As a result of the agreement, up to 300 workers are expected to accept buyout offers ranging from $30,000 to $50,000, Mr. Strickland said. Other affected workers will be permitted to transfer into other openings in the system. CSX has 36,000 employees.
Though the UTU's agreement to cut one worker from CSX crews was hailed as good news for the company, industry experts said the deal would have no effect on industrywide negotiations that are facing a strike deadline next Tuesday.
Union and industry officials are negotiating over a national contract covering wages, work conditions and benefits. CSX's agreement on crew size was reached with separate UTU locals.
Union officials could not be reached for comment on the agreement.