Category Archives: BNSF

Carloads Show Positive Numbers for BNSF

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Half way through the year, higher carload numbers are continuing to bring good news to BNSF Railway when compared to 2016 levels.

Slumping volumes in 2016 saw the total intermodal and carload volumes down 4.94% from 2015 levels, with coal shipments slumping 20.88% from 2015 levels.

Coal is still leading the way in the recovery, with shipments up a strong 19.83% year-to-date through July 8, as compared to the same period in 2016.

Also up a solid 5.12% are intermodal shipments.

While petroleum shipments continue to slide, with year-to-date numbers down 14.23%, the combined intermodal and carloads numbers are up 7.49% in the aggregate.

© 2017 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 Continues To Have Robust Shipping Volumes Compared to 2016

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Higher carload numbers are continuing to bring good news to BNSF Railway when compared to 2016.

Slumping volumes in 2016 saw the total intermodal and carload volumes down 4.94% from 2015 levels, with coal shipments slumping 20.88% from 2015 levels.

This time, coal is leading the way in the recovery, with shipments up a strong 21.72% year-to-date through June18, as compared to the same period in 2016.

Also up a solid 4.9% are intermodal shipments.

While petroleum shipments continue to slide, with year-to-date numbers down 13.22%, the combined intermodal and carloads numbers are up 7.77% in the aggregate.

© 2017 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.

GEICO Besting Esurance in Illinois

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GEICO Casualty has been gaining customers in Illinois while its competitor, Allstate’s Esurance, has seen policyholder slippage.

Esurance’s total Illinois policyholders dropped 4% from the prior year to 49,317, according to its June 12 filing with the Illinois Department of Insurance. Nationally, its total policyholders fell 2% to 1.4 million from 1.43 million.

In contrast, GEICO Casualty’s Illinois policyholders grew to 212,029 policyholders as of March 31, which is a strong 15% increase from 183,644 policyholders.

In 2011, Allstate bought Esurance and Answer Financial from White Mountains Insurance Group for roughly $1 billion. Esurance sells auto insurance directly to customers online and through call centers. The unit has never turned a profit, and Allstate has responded by slashing its advertising budget.

© 2017 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.

Swinomish Tribe Gets Big Win Against BNSF

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A federal judge’s ruling in favor of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community gives the tribe a major victory against BNSF Railway in their dispute over oil trains crossing tribal land.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community initially filed their lawsuit in March 2015. In September 2015, a federal judge ruled affirming the Native American tribe’s right to sue the railroad for violating the terms of a Right-of-Way easement granted to allow the railroad to cross the reservation.

The Easement Agreement enables BNSF to bring Bakken crude oil to the Tesoro refinery by crossing a portion of the Swinomish Indian Reservation located on Fidalgo Island in Skagit County, Washington.

Under the terms of the 1991 Easement Agreement, BNSF is allowed to run one 25-car train per day in each direction. The tribe sued contending that BNSF was running as many as six 100-car “unit trains” per week.

On Thursday, June 8, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik granted the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s motion for reconsideration.The ruling reverses the court’s prior ruling that the case should be decided under state law, noting that ”the Court incorrectly analyzed the breach of contract and trespass claims as if they arose under state law. Issues pertaining to tribes, including actions for trespass on tribal lands, are the exclusive province of federal law.”

In its decision, the court decided that the tribe’s treaty rights trumped any interstate commerce laws.

“The correct analysis when considering the Tribe’s treaty-based federal common law claim is not whether the requested relief would interfere with rail transportation, but whether Congress intended to repeal the Treaty of Point Elliott when it enacted the ICCTA. The Court finds that it did not,” Judge Lasnik ruled.

The History of the Dispute

Train travel across the tribe’s land has a long contentious history, with the original track having been laid in the late 1800s without consent from the Swinomish or the U.S government. The tracks cross the northern edge of the reservation, and the Swinomish, as the present day political successor-in-interest to certain of the tribes and bands that signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, first sued the railroad in 1976, alleging a century of trespassing on tribal land. The resulting settlement led to the 1991 Easement Agreement that allowed only the 25-car train limit without the Tribe’s permission.

The Tribe contend in its lawsuit that “BNSF never notified the Tribe that it intended to exceed the limitation of one train of 25 cars or less, nor did it request permission from the Tribe before it began to do so.”

A Deal is a Deal

“A deal is a deal,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Our signatures were on the agreement with BNSF, so were theirs, and so was the United States. But despite all that, BNSF began running its Bakken oil trains across the Reservation without asking, and without even telling us. This was exactly what they did for decades starting in the 1800s.”

“We told BNSF to stop, again and again,” said Cladoosby. “We also told BNSF: convince us why we should allow these oil trains to cross the Reservation. And we listened for two years, even while the trains kept rolling. But experiences across the country have now shown us all the dangers of Bakken Crude. It’s unacceptable for BNSF to put our people and our way of life at risk without regard to the agreement we established in good faith.”

Under the terms of the Easement Agreement, the Tribe agreed not to “arbitrarily withhold permission” for BNSF’s request to increase the number of trains or cars.

Is it Arbitrary?

The Tribe contends that its refusal to grant permission is not arbitrary and is “Based on the demonstrated hazards of shipping Bakken Crude by rail, paired with the proximity of the Right-of-Way to the Tribe’s critical economic and environmental resources and facilities — and the substantial numbers of people who use those resources and facilities on a daily basis — the Tribe is justifiably and gravely concerned with BNSF’s shipment of Bakken Crude across the Right-of-Way in a manner and in quantities at odds with the explicit terms of the Easement Agreement.”

The Swinomish are concerned that trains carrying Bakken crude oil run over bridges spanning the Tribe’s fishing grounds in the Swinomish Channel and Padilla Bay. They also noted that the track runs across the “heart of the Tribe’s economic development enterprises,” which includes the Tribe’s Swinomish Casino and Lodge, a Chevron station and convenience store, and an RV Park, as well as a Tribal waste treatment plant.

The Tribe noted that these enterprises are the “primary financial source for funding of the Tribe’s essential governmental functions and programs.”

The 1991 Easement Agreement granted the Right-of-Way for an initial 40-year term, along with two 20-year option periods. The current agreement will expire no later than 2071.

The tribe is seeking a “permanent injunction prohibiting BNSF from (1) running more than one train of twenty-five cars or less in each direction over the Right-of-Way per day and (2) shipping Bakken Crude across the Reservation.”

The Swinomish are also seeking monetary damages for the prior trespasses and breach of contract in an amount to be determined at trial.

Unfortunate Words for BNSF

In its ruling, the court also made clear that the tribe’s claims of a breach of contract were valid, noting that “the Court found that there was no genuine issue of fact regarding the existence of a breach.”

© 2017 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.

Rise in Carloads Show Good News for BNSF

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Higher carload numbers are continuing to bring good news to BNSF Railway when compared to 2016.

Slumping volumes in 2016 saw the total intermodal and carload volumes down 4.94% from 2015 levels, with coal shipments slumping 20.88% from 2015 levels.

This time, coal is leading the way in the recovery, with shipments up a strong 22.56% year-to-date through May 27, as compared to the same period in 2016.

Also up a solid 4.55% are intermodal shipments.

While petroleum shipments continue to slide, with year-to-date numbers down 13.07%, the combined intermodal and carloads numbers are up 7.53% in the aggregate.

© 2017 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 Continues Layoffs Due to Soft Coal and Oil Demand

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BNSF Railway continues to trim its workforce, which continues a process that was particularly heavy in 2016.

In 2016, BNSF furloughed about 4,600 workers.

The most recent to face layoffs were 55 workers at the Glendive diesel shop in Glendive, Montana. The layoffs are classified as permanent, and the shop will continue to employ roughly 60 workers.

A spokesman for BNSF cited lower demand for coal and oil shipments as the reason for the layoffs.

System-wide, BNSF’s 2016 carloads were down significantly from 2015 levels. There were a total of 480,000 fewer unit trains than in the prior year.

Things have been looking up in 2017, with total carloads including intermodal up a robust 7.25% system-wide. However, the freight hauler has been working actively on making itself more efficient, which enables it to do the same work with fewer employees.

© 2017 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 Light at End of Tunnel with Higher Shipping Volumes

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Things are turning around at BNSF Railway now that higher carload numbers are continuing to remain strong.

Slumping volumes in 2016 saw the total intermodal and carload volumes down 4.94% from2015 levels, with coal shipments slumping 20.88% from 2015 levels.

This time, coal is leading the way in the recovery, with shipments up a robust 19.11% year-to-date over the same period in 2016.

Also up a solid 4.26% are intermodal shipments.

While petroleum shipments continue to slide, with year-to-date numbers down 10.14%, the combined intermodal and carloads numbers are up 6.15% in the aggregate.

© 2017 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 to Build $2.3 million facility in Minnesota

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BNSF Railway has announced that it will build a $2.3 million facility in Dilworth, Minnesota. The new facility will replace its existing facility.

The new facility will enable the company to hold meetings and on-site training, as it will be significantly larger than its current location.

Construction will begin this spring with completion planned by the fall of 2017.

© 2017 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 Reaches $1 million Settlement for Pollution of Washington’s Rivers

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Rather than wage a prolonged legal battle that could possibly end with it on the hook for massive damages, BNSF Railways has reached a settlement agreement with seven environmental groups that contend the railroad has polluted Washington’s rivers due to coal dust from its coal shipments.

BNSF has admitted no wrongdoing, but has agreed to pay $1 million in support of environmental clean-up projects in Bellingham, Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Spokane River.

The seven environmental groups, which included the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council, first sued BNSF in 2013, alleging that the freight railroad violated the federal Clean Water Act.

The settlement heads off lawsuits that alleged trillions of dollars of damages that came from the dust that blew off open-topped hopper cars.

The railroad has also agreed to study the use of physical covers for coal and petroleum coke trains in order to reduce or eliminate the source of the pollution.

“This puts them on a path to the ultimate solution to stop the discharge of coal into our nation’s waterways,” said Charlie Tebbutt, who is the lead attorney representing the environmental groups.

© 2017 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 to Spend $3.4 Billion in 2017

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BNSF Railway is committing $3.4 billion in 2017 to maintain and upgrade its 32,000-mile system.

“Each year we establish a capital plan that reflects the future needs of our customers and the constant need to keep our infrastructure in good working condition. This year’s capital plan ensures we continue to operate a safe and reliable rail network while capturing the new opportunities our customers will present to us,” said Carl Ice, BNSF president and chief executive officer. “Our ongoing investments, along with the outstanding efforts of our employees, resulted in the lowest number of derailments in company history last year. The strength and condition of our railroad today gives us the confidence that we will operate safely in the communities we serve and meet our customers’ expectations of reliable and consistent service.”

The company notes that similar to last year’s $3.9 billion plan, the largest component of the plan will be to replace and maintain BNSF’s core network and related assets.

This year that component is expected to be $2.4 billion. The projects included in this part of the plan will primarily be for replacing and upgrading rail, rail ties and ballast (which are the main components for the tracks on which BNSF trains operate) and maintaining its rolling stock. This year’s maintenance program will include approximately 20,000 miles of track surfacing and/or undercutting work and the replacement of about 600 miles of rail and nearly 3 million rail ties.

Rounding out the plan will be $400 million for expansion projects, $100 million for the implementation of positive train control and $400 million for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

The states on the BNSF network estimated to receive the largest investments this year include:

· Texas – $255 million
· Illinois – $190 million
· Washington – $175 million
· California – $170 million
· Kansas – $125 million
· Missouri – $120 million
· Montana – $100 million
· Nebraska – $100 million

© 2017 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.