Category Archives: BNSF

BNSF to be Sued by Environmental Groups Over Grizzly Bear Deaths

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Wildlife advocates have notified Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway of their intent to sue the business over its role in trains in Montana killing numerous grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

A train recently killed two grizzly cubs near Whitefish. In addition, five grizzly bears died earlier this month near East Glacier Park as a result of railway activities. A train struck and killed a cow, which then attracted five bears to the tracks.

In five separate incidents, two died in train collisions and three were killed by cars on Highway 2.

This year alone, trains have killed at least eight grizzlies in Montana.

“While Burlington Northern has twiddled its thumbs for 15 years rather than taking essential measures to protect grizzly bears, trains have killed dozens of grizzlies, including at least four cubs,” said Sarah McMillan, Conservation Director at WildEarth Guardians. “This neglect, that has such lethal impact on protected bears, is simply unacceptable.”

The lawsuit targets BNSF’s railroad across northern Montana, which runs from eastern Montana, just south of Glacier National Park, and into Idaho. The best available data show that from 1980-2018, trains along its railways killed or contributed to the deaths of approximately 52 grizzly bears from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Approximately 1.2-1.5 BNSF trains run per hour on these railways in Montana, averaging 35 miles per hour. There is a slight increase in train frequency at twilight, when grizzly bears often feed.

“The 67-mile stretch of railway between West Glacier and Browning is where trains reportedly killed 29 grizzlies between 1980 and 2002,” said Pete Frost, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Slowing the trains down, ensuring carrion are promptly cleared from tracks, and perhaps scheduling trains to run during the day and not at feeding time might reduce trains killing grizzlies.”

“The deaths of these grizzly bears and cubs was entirely preventable and there is no excuse for BNSF’s continued failure to safeguard the railroad from these lethal collisions,” said Josh Osher, Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Whether it’s a lack of concern, laziness or just plain greed, it’s time for BNSF to be held accountable and to take immediate steps to stop further killings.”

The Western Watersheds Project notes that a company’s activities kill threatened species like the grizzly bear, it is legally required to propose solutions in a habitat conservation plan that then can lead to an incidental take permit. For more than 15 years, Burlington Northern has said it is working on a habitat conservation plan for grizzlies along its northern Montana train route, but one has never materialized.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Certifies Six New Sites

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Six new industrial locations have been awarded BNSF Railway Company’s Certified Sites designation.

Four of the new Certified Sites are the first for their state in Arizona, Minnesota, Mississippi and Missouri.

Two new Illinois Certified Sites bring the state’s total count to four.

In order to be considered for the designation, sites must undergo a thorough analysis, which includes an evaluation of environmental and geotechnical standards, available utilities, site availability and existing and projected infrastructure.

“Since the program’s inception in March 2016, BNSF’s Certified Sites have attracted more than $140 million of customer investments,” said Colby Tanner, assistant vice president, economic development. “This is a testament to our communities’ partnerships and commitments to keeping pace with the speed of development.”

The newly-designated Certified Sites feature hundreds of acres ready for industrial development:

• Becker Industrial Park, Becker, Minn. – Adjacent to US Highway 10 with easy access to two additional major highways, Becker Industrial Park consists of 67 acres of contiguous lots zoned for heavy industrial use.

• Duane Michie Industrial Park, Hayti, Mo. – Located one-half mile from the Pemiscot County Port Authority and in close proximity to two Missouri state highways and two interstate highways, Duane Michie Industrial Park has approximately 250 acres available for development.

• Springs Industrial Park, Holly Springs, Miss. – Just north of Highway 22 and about 40 miles southeast of Memphis International Airport, the Springs Industrial Park site has more than 1,200 acres available for development.

• Railplex Industrial Park, Surprise, Ariz. – Surprise’s two-square-mile Railplex is shovel-ready with all major utilities to site including water, sewer, power, rail and telecommunications. The Railplex has attracted over $150 million in capital investment with 292 acres available for development.

• Elion Logistics Park 55, Wilmington, Ill. – Elion Logistics Park 55 is a rail-served, mixed-use industrial park located off BNSF’s Southern Transcon. Up to 12 million square feet of potential rail-served sites are available.

• Lincoln Prairie South, Yorkville, Ill. – Situated at the intersections of State highways 34, 47, 71 and 126 plus access to I-88 to the north, I-80 to the south, and I-55 to the east, the Lincoln Prairie South site is a prime location for development of more than 220 divisible acres.

Certified Sites are a part of BNSF’s Premier Parks, Sites and Transload program. The program is a strategic approach that addresses the increasing demand for customer site locations by developing various types of facilities across BNSF’s network. Businesses looking to locate at any of these properties could save six to nine months of construction time as a result of this analysis.

BNSF Certified Sites are reviewed by an industry expert in order to ensure accurate, reliable data. The goal of the program is to provide an inventory of rail-served sites that are available for immediate development.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF & YRC Freight Increase Intermodal Commerce

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YRC Freight has announced that by the end of this year YRC and BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) will have onboarded more than 600 branded intermodal containers. These new containers are part of the YRC commitment to acquire 1,000 branded intermodal containers by the end of 2020. Most of the containers will travel between Chicago and Southern California on BNSF’s network.

“At YRC Freight, our intermodal commerce with BNSF is evolving. We are reinforcing our commitment to YRC Freight-branded containerized units for the present and the future. As intermodal usage continues to shift to containerized transport, YRC Freight will already be there,” confirms YRC Worldwide Chief Operating Officer and YRC Freight President T.J. O’Connor.

Intermodal operations between truck and rail are a valuable emissions reduction strategy in the central and western United States to move trailers/containers over long distances. YRC Freight deploys a number of strategies to reduce its carbon footprint including its work with BNSF, use of longer combination vehicles, onboarding of new tractors with advanced emission reduction technologies and integration of industry-leading routing and load optimization software. Recently, YRC Freight renewed its annual certification with the award-winning EPA SmartWay voluntary emissions program.

“Operationally, all intermodal companies are looking at how to improve efficiency,” said YRC Freight Senior Vice President, Operations, Maynard Skarka. “Currently, we use smaller trailers called ‘pups’ to transport freight for our customers. This new shift to our branded containerized units will allow us to stay aligned with intermodal companies as we both look for operational efficiencies.”

BNSF remains focused on working with its customers to develop the best supply chain solutions for the movement of containers and trailers across its rail network. Its collaboration with YRC is great example of how it is doing that.

“At BNSF we are always looking at how we can create more efficiencies and greater capacity on our network, particularly in markets like the Inland Empire where containerization will help us leverage capacity to grow with increasing demand over time,” said BNSF Vice President, Domestic Intermodal, Todd Carter. “We will continue to work with our customers to transport both containers and trailers and will make adjustments that make sense to our overall logistics strategy with an eye toward meeting our customers’ expectations and fostering our mutual ability to grow.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Carloads Make Up Ground after Weak Spring

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BNSF Railway’s carloads for 2019 have made up some ground from earlier in the year, but continue to lag 2018. The decline is due in part to decreases in coal and grain shipments.

Coal shipments as of the week ending September 7, 2019, are down 5.2% over the same period last year, and combined intermodal and carloads numbers are down 3.90% in the aggregate.

Also, showing weaker numbers are grain shipments, which are down 10.53%, and shipments of motor vehicles are down 4.9%.

2018 was a strong year for BNSF, with the combined carloads including intermodal up 4.03% over 2017, however 2019’s numbers have been hurt by weak global demand for coal and severe flooding in the Midwest during the spring that closed some routes and slowed others.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Special Report: BNSF On Track For 2020 Test of Lithium-Ion Locomotive

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Wabtec and BNSF Railway Company are on track for a late-2020 test of a lithium-ion battery-powered locomotive paired with diesel locomotives in a “consist” (railroad jargon for a sequence of connected locomotives) to power a freight train along a stretch of rail in California’s Central Valley between Stockton and Barstow.

If successful, the fuel savings could have a big impact on BNSF and other railroads. And the environmental benefits could also help BNSF advance one of its major capacity-building projects.

BNSF has been developing the pilot program with help from Wabtec (formerly GE Transportation), which is developing the locomotive.

Currently, Wabtec builds new locomotives up to 5,400 horsepower. In addition to locomotives, Wabtec also produces freight cars, passenger transit vehicles and power generation equipment, for both original equipment and aftermarket applications.

For BNSF, the fuel saving could be huge, as adding even one battery-powered locomotive to the train could reduce the consist’s total fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.

BNSF previously looked at liquefied natural gas as a possible alternative to diesel fuel, but ended the project, and has since moved on to battery power.

The leap to battery power is not as big of one as it may at first seem. Diesel-electric locomotives like the machines Wabtec builds are already essentially power plants on wheels. They use a powerful diesel engine to generate the electricity that drives the electric motors that spin the wheels.

Wabtec believes that a battery-powered locomotive is the perfect complement to its diesel-electric brethren. The battery will hold 2,400 kilowatt-hours of energy, meaning it’s able to maintain full horsepower for roughly 30 minutes on a given charge. Then the operator can decide how to use that power.

For example, the operator could slash emissions from the diesel-powered locomotives by drawing heavily on the battery to start up the train. This would be especially desirable if the train were pulling out of a city rail yard, close to populated areas.

Using the battery power also cuts down on noise. The train operator may also choose to “graze” on battery power — or even recharge the battery — when the train is cruising through open landscape, saving hundreds of gallons of diesel.

Each battery locomotive also has a brain, in the form of an onboard supervisory control system. The rail operator can input data about the train’s journey into the system — such as how much weight it’s hauling, the types of locomotives in the consist, and its rout — to allow the computer to make decisions about the best way to use the battery before the train even pulls away.

Imagine a battery-enhanced train making a 500-mile trip across sparsely populated terrain — meaning fuel economy is the name of the game. Software will calculate the optimum ratio of battery power to diesel usage for such a journey and decide on the most favorable balance for the hybrid locomotive consist. The software can then pinpoint the exact moments to draw on the battery, thus sparing diesel.

The new locomotive will use a battery cell similar to what you might find under the hood of an electric car. It is a lithium-ion energy storage unit with cells that contain a combination of nickel, manganese and cobalt only far larger.

A standard electric-car battery usually holds a few hundred storage cells — each around the size of a mini tablet computer. But the prototype of the new locomotive will have a battery with approximately 20,000 cells, and future versions may have as many as 50,000 cells. The cells also must be able to weather the heavy-going environment of a locomotive, with all its jolts and shocks.

To build the demonstration model, workers will strip out the engine and cooling systems from a diesel locomotive to make way for the battery under the hood. But from the outside, the battery-powered locomotive won’t look much different from its diesel counterparts.

The impact on BNSF could be huge, not only in fuel cost-savings, but if it could use battery-powered locomotives in urban areas, such as the Port of Long Beach, it might be able to overcome the opposition to its long-stalled Southern California International Gateway plan, which has been held up due to environmental concerns tied to diesel emissions.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance

BNSF Shipping Numbers Continue to Lag Behind 2018 Numbers

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BNSF Railway’s carloads for 2019 have continued their downward trend as compared to 2018 due to a major decrease in intermodal shipping, which are down 5.53% from 2018.

Coal shipments as of the week ending July 20, 2019, are down 5.21% over the same period last year, and combined intermodal and carloads numbers are down 4.41% in the aggregate.

Also, showing weaker numbers are grain shipments, which are down 10.9%, and shipments of motor vehicles are down 5.31%.

Last year was a strong year for BNSF, with the combined carloads including intermodal up 4.03% over 2017, however 2019’s numbers have been hurt by lower shipments due to tariffs, weak global demand for coal, and severe spring flooding in the Midwest that closed some routes and slowed others.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Sees 2% Rise in Q1 Operating Income

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Despite difficult weather conditions, BNSF Railway saw a 2 percent rise in operating income in the first quarter of 2019.

First quarter 2019 operating income was $1.8 billion, an increase of $32 million (2%), compared to the same period in 2018. Total revenues for the first quarter of 2019 were up 2%, compared with the same period in 2018 primarily due to an 8% increase in average revenue per car/unit, as a result of increased rates per car/unit, a favorable outcome of an arbitration hearing, and higher fuel surcharges.

This increase was partially offset by a 5% decrease in unit volume due to severe winter weather and flooding on parts of the network, as well as the following individual business unit drivers:

• Consumer Products volumes decreased 6% for the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 primarily due to lower intermodal volumes, which were driven by lower international intermodal market share, increased truck competition, and the aforementioned challenging weather conditions.

• Industrial Products volumes increased 1% for the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 primarily due to strength in the energy and industrial sectors, which drove higher demand for petroleum products, liquefied petroleum gas, and aggregates. This increase was partially offset by lower sand and taconite volumes as well as the aforementioned challenging weather conditions.

• Agricultural Products volumes decreased 7% for the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 primarily due to the aforementioned challenging weather conditions, partially offset by higher soybean exports.

• Coal volumes decreased 10% for the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 primarily due to the aforementioned challenging weather conditions, partially offset by higher market share.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Recovers from Midwest Flooding, but Rising Waters Still Limits Some Routes

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While much of BNSF Railway’s traffic has been restored to normal after this spring’s record flooding, BNSF continues to have flooding issues in some areas.

According to the company, BNSF teams have been responding to flood-related track outages in Oklahoma and Kansas following heavy rainfall from a mid-week storm. Several inches of rain in a 24-hour period caused track washouts, or high water locations, on multiple BNSF subdivisions.

The Walnut River at Winfield, Kan., where our Douglass and Arkansas City subdivisions intersect in southeastern Kansas, rose by nearly 30 feet in less than 36 hours and peaked at eight feet above flood stage Wednesday evening.

Portions of both subdivisions, which serve as key route links for traffic moving between the Midwest and Texas, are out of service. The La Junta Subdivision, which runs between southeastern Colorado and eastern Kansas, is also out of service at Halstead, Kan., just west of Newton, due to flood gate closures. BNSF is re-routing some traffic to minimize these disruptions as much as possible.

In the Midwest, service was restored this week on a portion of the Hannibal Subdivision running between Burlington and Fort Madison, Iowa. Approximately 120 miles of the Hannibal Subdivision north of St. Louis remains out of service due to current Mississippi River water levels and flood gate closures. Nearly 100 miles of the River Subdivision, running adjacent to the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, also remains out of service.

As the river recedes, BNSF currently estimates 90 miles of the Hannibal Subdivision to reopen next week, with the remaining 30 miles between Keokuk, IA and La Grange, Mo. reopening the following week. Any significant rainfall or storm events, however, may affect service restoration estimates.

In Nebraska, restoration work on the Napier Subdivision between Pacific Junction, IA and Napier, Mo. continues to progress on schedule. Another 20-mile zone is expected to reopen next week and the full subdivision by the end of the month.

The average number of trains holding increased significantly versus the previous week due to the additional flooding-related outages as well as track work taking place on our Galveston Subdivision, which has caused delays to traffic moving through central Texas. BNSF crews have been conducting ballast replenishment and surfacing work on our main line in two locations southeast of Temple. We expect to generate improved velocity and train flows through this area during the next few days once restoration work is completed.

They also note that excessive rainfall is likely through the weekend across southeastern Texas, including in the Houston complex, Louisiana and other areas of the lower Mississippi River Valley. Much of this region could receive more than one month’s worth of rainfall by the end of the weekend. BNSF operations teams are monitoring water levels in flood-prone areas and are ready to quickly respond to any service disruptions.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Carloads Continue to Lag 2019 Levels

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BNSF Railway’s carloads for 2019 have continued their downward trend as compared to 2018. The decline is due in part to a major decrease in coal shipments.

Coal shipments as of the week ending April 13, 2019, are down 10.25% over the same period last year, and combined intermodal and carloads numbers are down 5.15% in the aggregate.

Also, showing weaker numbers are grain shipments, which are down 12.85%, and shipments of motor vehicles are down 5.51%.

2018 was a strong year for BNSF, with the combined carloads including intermodal up 4.03% over 2017, however 2019’s numbers have been hurt by weak global demand for coal and severe flooding in the Midwest that has closed some routes and slowed others.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BNSF Granted FAA Exemptions for its Drone Operations

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BNSF Railway has received an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 so it can expand its drone inspection operations.

Under a pilot program approved by the FAA, BNSF has been testing drones for supplemental inspection of rail infrastructure.

The exemption allowed its drones to fly beyond visual line of sight. It includes a programmed aircraft with long-range flight plans to be flown autonomously and out of view of an operator.

Under the FAA exemption, BNSF has:

• permission to fly BVLOS flights below 400 feet above ground level because altitudes higher pose a risk of collision with other aircraft;

• an exemption from requiring a FAA airworthiness certificate because the aircraft does not create a hazard to users of national airspace system or the public;

• an exemption from certain maintenance requirements so that BNSF can conduct regularly scheduled maintenance and inspection in accordance with the drone operation manual; and

• permission for BNSF UAS pilots that hold a private pilot certificate and a third-class medical certification to conduct operations for compensation.

© 2019 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.