BNSF tells federal regulators it’s ready to handle more traffic

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BNSF Railway
WASHINGTON — BNSF Railway has been able to maintain its service levels while carrying more freight this year thanks to capacity investments the railroad has made in recent years, CEO Carl Ice has told federal regulators.

Any service challenges the railroad has had this year were related to weather, particularly below-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall that walloped its Northern Transcon linking the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, Ice wrote in a letter to the Surface Transportation Board.

BNSF was second railroad to respond to the board’s request for information about service levels in light of deteriorating performance metrics at most of the Class I railroads. The board’s request to the seven CEOs, made public last week, came in response to letters from grain shippers and automakers that painted a picture of slow and erratic service across North America.

BNSF is operating better now than it was at this time last year, Ice says.

“Despite the challenges of 2018 weather and the significant volumes we are moving for our customers, our overall velocity performance in the first quarter exceeds that of 2017,” Ice wrote. “We believe that we are trending back to the service performance we were seeing prior to February, with fewer cars online and strong velocity across the network, and that our customers are experiencing recovery in real time.”

Traffic volume on BNSF is at historically high levels for this time of year, Ice wrote. BNSF expects traffic to grow this year as the economy to continues to strengthen, he said.

“We will not hesitate to bring on additional resources — including infrastructure, equipment, and people — to handle the growth our customers bring us,” Ice wrote.

BNSF currently has 7,300 locomotives in service, with 701 high-horsepower units in a surge fleet that can be tapped quickly. The railroad sent 200 additional locomotives to its northern tier in February to ensure sufficient power for trains.

BNSF continues to hire train and engine employees and has called back all but 200 of the 5,000 crew members who were furloughed during the 2016 traffic downturn. The railroad expects to add 2,000 employees this year.

Intermodal and auto volume growth this year is meeting BNSF’s expectations for mid single-digit growth. BNSF expects to see stronger-than-expected growth in industrial products traffic. Grain also is growing faster than expected as volume accelerated this month toward an all-time record. BNSF expects coal volume to decline, largely due to the retirements of coal-fired power plants.

BNSF is spending $500 million this year to add capacity across its network, primarily along its Southern and Northern Transcon routes, where it will add several sidings and stretches of multiple track. It also is expanding three intermodal terminals this year.

“BNSF’s business model has always been to grow with all of our customers who want to ship on our railroad, earn value for the service we provide, and reinvest back into the railroad to be positioned for future growth,” Ice wrote.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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