CSX Transportation (it’s name deriving with the “C” standing for Chessie, “S” for Seaboard, and “X” an all-encompassing multiplication symbol that “together we are so much more”) is the railroad division of CSX Corporation, the latter of which was originally created in 1980 as a holding company for several subsidiaries. Today, its system comprises some 21,000 route miles with more than 36,000 employees. It ranks third among Class I's with $11.81 billion in annual revenue as of 2015. However, the road has had a somewhat tumultuous history during its past 30 years of operation, criticized for various decisions carried out over its network in regards to abandonment of property, cutbacks in other areas, and a general lack of living up to its predecessor's standards. Historically, the road can trace its roots back to America's first common-carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio while other parts of its ancestry include the Chesapeake & Ohio, Western Maryland, Seaboard Air Line, Atlantic Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, and Clinchfield.
CSX Transportation's corporate history as a stand-alone railroad has only entered its fourth decade, relatively young by industry standards. Its creation was brought about by the formation of CSX Corporation on November 1, 1980, a holding company which controlled rail and non-rail assets. As the formal union of what as then Chessie System and Seaboard System slowly came together during the 1980s, CSX Transportation (CSXT) was born on July 1, 1986 to operate the company's railroad division. While the southern roads were merged into their holding company on December 29, 1982 (Seaboard System, whose name disappeared with CSXT's creation) the Chessie System roads had only operated under the guise of that name since its 1973 creation. According to Trains Magazine, the Western Maryland was the first to disappear, merged into the B&O on May 1, 1983. The B&O and C&O survived as "paper" companies for nearly a year into the CSXT era: B&O vanished into the C&O on April 30, 1987 (ironically it had just celebrated its 160th birthday on April 24th). Finally, the C&O was formally dissolved as a corporate entity on August 31, 1987.
After the merger proceedings of the 1980s were complete, the new railroad became the largest east of the Mississippi, dwarfing the then recently formed Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail," a government created and financed entity to restore order to the northeastern rail market that went belly-up after the Penn Central disaster), Norfolk & Western, and Southern. The latter two roads merged a few years later in 1982 to form Norfolk Southern although the NS of that time remained much smaller than its rival. However, unlike the Chessie System, which was an efficiently operated and well-managed railroad these practices never truly carried on into the new company. Despite the fact that CSX Transportation was much larger than NS, the latter consistently earned higher profits with an overall lower operating ratio. As an NS employee once stated, “If CSX ever learns how to run a railroad we could be in real trouble.” In addition, after Hays T. Watkins (the railroad's first chairman) left CSXT in 1988 the railroad seemingly lacked an effective management system until the mid-2000s. Today, it is coming on strong as one of the most efficiently operated railroads in the country (as of mid-2010 it posted its lowest operating ratio ever).
While CSXT never suffered from the corporate culture issues Penn Central experienced with its employees, it still struggled to find an identity. It has long been stated that former Seaboard and Chessie people did not see eye-to-eye on many things and this carried over into the corporate logo. There was no general agreement about what this should be or how it would appear. Tom Dixon states in his book, "The Chessie Era," that at first the new company had absolutely no plans to use the initials "CSX" on its locomotives or equipment. However, sure enough, by 1986 it began appearing and the initial design featured a simple grey-dip scheme with blue trim and lettering: dubbed the "Stealth" lvery by railfans, according to the "Bull Sheet" the first locomotives to wear it were B30-7's #5508 and #5511, which rolled out of the shops in Waycross, Georgia on May 6, 1986. A year later, full-scale production began of repainting predecessor units.
Enthusiasts who closely follow the company have attached names to its various paint schemes over the years which, interestingly, have changed little during that time. Through the many various subtle alternations the three significant changes include the following; during the early 1990s, for better visibility yellow was introduced to the skirting, nose, and aft end of locomotives. Later, in the early 2000s, CSX replaced the grey entirely by featuring a new, deep blue scheme with yellow lettering and trim, somewhat similar to the late B&O and C&O designs. A decade after this updated book place the design was altered to include the so-called "Boxcar Logo" featuring a basic boxcar shape around the CSX stencil. Most observers agree that, despite some stylistic changes from time to time, the font used for "CSX" has always remained Lubalin Graph Bold.
Mr. Watkins’ leadership of the 1980s provided a great deal of assistance during the early years when the company was just coming together as it attempted to work out the typical logistical and managerial issues associated with any large merger. However, his departure was not the beginning of the railroad's problems. In the mid-1970s then-Chessie System took steps to pare down what it deemed superfluous or redundant segments; unfortunately, the Western Maryland was hardest hit since it paralleled the B&O in many locations (although, ironically, its newer routes through western Maryland and Pennsylvania offered better grades). Then, during the 1980s the B&O was cut up; in a highly controversial move that remains so to this day its St. Louis Gateway main line (Baltimore - St. Louis) was severed from Clarksburg to Parkersburg, West Virginia (the "Parkersburg Branch") as was much of the Ohio Division. Despite its ruggedness across the Mountain State the direct east-west route was a tailor-made intermodal corridor and the B&O/Chessie made use of it as such when the COFC/TOFC (container/trailer-on-flatcar) revolution took off in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ironically, after pulling the plug the railroad was left without a competitive container route until its acquisition of Conrail in 1999. There were also key segments of the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line abandoned while talks continue today about potentially rebuilding some of these routes for passenger service. Even the Chesapeake & Ohio, architect and most profitable component of the Chessie System, has not been immune as much of its Chicago line was abandoned across Indiana. These moves, and others, have drawn CSXT a great deal of criticism both in and outside of the industry. Looking back, at the time of the B&O abandonments, CSX was attempted to save money and cut costs on routes that were expensive to operate or generally redundant. The Parkersburg Branch was indeed operationally expensive while its numerous tunnels restricted the amount of through traffic it could handle (double-stacks could not fit through the bores). Ironically, a major upgrade to the corridor had occurred under the C&O in the 1960s (lowering floors and daylighting tunnels) for the very purpose of making it competitive and efficient for intermodal service.
Had the railroad then known that double-stack containers would comprise such a large percentage of rail traffic only a few decades later it certainly would have spent the extra time and slightly additional expense to upgrade the line for this freight. Sadly, in the succeeding years much of the B&O has continued to either see abandonment or sale, especially in West Virginia where only a segment of the West End and Ohio River Subdivision remain (along with a few branches). Today, its only vital route seeing considerable use is the former Chicago main line. Into the 1990s, CSX Transportation saw further expansion when it fully absorbed the vital bridge route known as the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac in 1991. This road's busy main line ran between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia and had long been operated by numerous railroads until CSX found itself as sole owner.
Only a year later, on September 11, 1992 it took control of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, a small, historic regional that connected northeastern Ohio with southwestern Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh. It had long been under New York Central control but regained independence following the Penn Central bankruptcy and managed to remain so when Conrail was formed in 1976. The most significant addition was the 1999 purchase of Conrail, cut up in conjunction with Norfolk Southern that year; it proved a very costly battle for the Northeastern carrier, which had direct access to the large markets of Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City. The fight was eventually settled with a split of the railroad; CSX agreed to 42% while NS purchased the larger, 58% segment. As it turns out both CSX and NS had logistical problems to integrate their segments although they managed to largely avoid the issues Union Pacific experienced in its 1996 takeover of Southern Pacific.
Of the two, Norfolk Southern experienced a better transition, mostly because of the management practices the railroad had put in place since the days of the Southern and Norfolk & Western. The above map gives a general family tree of the largest railroads which make up the current CSX Transportation system. While its future is as much of a guess as its past, many in the industry and those who study it see two mega-railroads evolve with CSX merging with one of the western railroads and Union Pacific likely joining with Norfolk Southern. The most recent event to occur in this regard was the 2014 approach from Canadian Pacific about a possible merger. CSX declined the offer but, interestingly, CP went on to court Norfolk Southern about such a union in late 2015/early 2016. Following a few months of tense back and worth NS flatly rejected the idea, along with follow up inquiries from the Canadian road.
If the merger with either of the eastern Class I's had taken place the industry would surely have witnessed a final round of mega mergers, producing the two giant North American systems previously mentioned. Today, including CSXT, CSX Corporation carries out business in the following areas: CSX Intermodal Terminals, CSX Real Property, CSX Technology, Chessie Computer Service, Cybernetics & Services, Total Distribution Services, Transflo Corporation, Fruit Growers Express, CSX de Mexico, Winston-Salem Southbound Railway (shared ownership with Norfolk Southern), and Powerhouse Logistics. Whatever happens with CSX Transportation one thing is certain; it is a railroad rich in history, which stretches from the Northeast to the Southeast, and points west to Chicago and New Orleans. Perhaps one day, before the merger movement begins again the railroad will find its true identity and direction with an efficient and effective management team.Home › Class I Railroads › CSX Transportation