Rose says BNSF will extract efficiencies from PTC; prefer battery power to natural gas for locomotives

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BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose
TRAINS: David Lassen
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose says Tuesday his company hopes to extract efficiencies out of positive train control implementation, but added that he is not about eliminating crews from cabs. He also says that BNSF is less interested in natural gas as a locomotive fuel than it is in exploring battery-powered locomotives.

The railroad executive made his remarks during the closing session of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association annual meeting in Nashville. In a wide-ranging interview-style format with short line association President Linda Bauer Darr, Rose spoke about challenges to the railroad industry from autonomous trucks and efforts to increase truck sizes and weights, railroad service issues, the focus on operating ratios, and opportunities for the railroad industry in the midst of a robust economy.

With regards to PTC, Rose says BNSF will make the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline, but that the practical deadline will be 2020 because many other railroads that connect to BNSF will still be working on the crash avoidance technology. Rose says the company is running many of its trains with PTC now, as many as 75,000 in the last 30 days. He says the system has already prevented several potential accidents and that the railroad has installed it on subdivisions that it was not required to equip, saying that could be a transition to automation.

He called PTC the stepping stone to train automation, although he said BNSF has not yet determined what that would look like. He said some form of automation will be essential if truckers continue to gain efficiencies such as running robotic trucks in platoons.

“Some railroads have said they want to go to a one-person crew and others manless cabs ... that is not our focus.”

He says the railroad has to have PTC technology in place before looking in that direction.

Darr says 90 to 100 short lines of the nation’s almost 550 lines will have to implement PTC.

Responding to an audience question about interest in natural gas-powered units, Rose says he is more interested in battery power. He said BNSF has two Caterpillar and two GE natural gas units but the low cost differences between oil and gas do not make it possible to invest in natural gas. He says battery powered locomotives may be the next step, especially in California where environmental regulators are asking for zero-emission locomotives.

In another question from the audience, Rose was asked what it is like to work for Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffet, whose company purchased BNSF. Rose quipped, “It’s good.”
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