CSX's Hunter Harrison bashes U.S. trade groups over rail complaints

Aug 17 (Reuters) - CSX Corp Chief Executive Hunter Harrison hit back at dozens of trade groups that urged a federal probe into service disruptions at the No. 3 U.S. rail road, saying their complaints were "grossly overstated," according to a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The Rail Customer Coalition earlier this week asked federal rail regulators to investigate CSX's "chronic service failures" and called on Congress to make it easier for shippers to file complaints and allow other operators to use CSX track during disruptions.

Harrison responded to the shipper Coalition letter on Wednesday, defending the "transformational changes" he has implemented since taking over as CEO in March. He said system changes would boost productivity, cut costs and improve service at the Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad.

Harrison, a septuagenarian railroading executive famous for turnarounds of Canadian railroads, also slammed the trade groups for not discussing their problems with him first and said the groups went public to advance their own legislative agenda.

"CSX was greatly disappointed with your many unfounded and grossly exaggerated statements in your letter of August 14 related to the service experienced by some customers," Harrison wrote.

"The changes we are implementing today will deliver measurable improvements in key service metrics, resulting in our customers' freight moving more consistently, reliably, and cost efficiently across the CSX network," he said.

Harrison said the company was aggressively working to address service disruptions and would work with the Surface Transportation Board, the main U.S. rail regulator, as it monitors CSX's "ongoing improvement."

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)