Tag Archives: BNSF

BNSF Suffers Destructive Fire at Nebraska Terminal

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Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway suffered a major fire at its Alliance Intermodal Facility in Alliance, Nebraska on Sunday, April 11. The fire was in the roof of the structure, but the majority of the damage was caused by smoke and the water used to extinguish the blaze.

The damage was initially estimated at $3 million, including $2 million in damage to electronic equipment.

There were no injuries.

“We did have a structural fire; all our employees were safely evacuated, thankfully,” Amy Casas, senior director of external communications with BNSF Railway, said. “The local fire department managed to extinguish the fire within a few hours. We currently have a temporary worksite set up for any employees who worked out of that building while we conduct inspections and any necessary remediation work to the facility. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.”

Berkshire Hathaway has been snakebit with fires recently, with a major fire destroying a Lubrizol plant in Rouen, France in September 2019. Last month a fire destroyed a Forest River RV plant in Goshen, Indiana, and on April 7, there was a fire at a Johns Manville plant in Winslow Township, New Jersey.

© 2021 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway and BYD, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell a 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 Intermodal Business Continues Strong Showing Over 2020 Levels

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BNSF Railway continues to rack up strong Intermodal shipment numbers with an increase of 14.3 percent year to date as compared to the same period in 2020.

BNSF’s Group Vice President, Consumer Products, Tom G. Williams in testimony on March 10 before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, noted that December 2020 and January 2021 “were the two largest months in BNSF history for moving volume direct to rail off the ports in Southern California. We have called back furloughed employees and pulled railcars and locomotives out of storage to help handle the increased freight demand and drive improved fluidity through this gateway.”

Rail intermodal, which moves shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, has been reaching record levels, and BNSF is the largest intermodal railroad, transporting over a million more intermodal loads annually than its competitors.

Back in July 2020, BNSF noted that the rise in intermodal volume was primarily driven by e-commerce business.

A single train can take upwards of 400 tractor trailers off of highways, saving energy and reducing traffic congestion. Intermodal shipping includes both containers and trailers, and BNSF’s shipment of trailers is up a dramatic 29.76 percent year to date.

This video shows the scale of BNSF’s intermodal trains.

© 2021 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 Railway Gets Patent for Capacity-Boosting Virtual Track Block System

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BNSF Railway Company may soon be carry as much as 25% more freight over parts of its existing rail system, all without building additional track.

BNSF successfully received a patent for a virtual track block system that it says can greatly boost mainline capacity and average track speeds. It can also aid in the detection of broken rails.

The patent issued on January 19, 2021, is described as “A method of railroad track control includes partitioning a physical track block into a plurality of virtual track blocks.”

Using conventional block signaling, track capacity cannot be increased without additional track infrastructure, such as additional signals and associated control equipment. And, conventional block signaling systems cannot identify broken rail within an unoccupied block.

By using “virtual track blocks”, train block spacing is reduced to accurately reflect train braking capabilities. In particular, train spacing is maintained within a physical track block by identifying train position with respect to virtual track blocks within that physical track block. This alleviates the need for wayside signals, since train braking distance is maintained onboard the locomotives instead of through wayside signal aspects. In addition, by partitioning the physical track blocks into multiple virtual track blocks, broken rail can be detected within an occupied physical track block.

© 2021 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 Railway Announces $1.1 billion in 2020 Economic Development Results

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BNSF Railway Company has reported investments from customers served by the freight rail provider in 2020 totaled approximately $1.1 billion.

Large investments from customers including Coldpoint Logistics, Delta Peanut and Ingredion contributed to the sum.

As a result of customer investments, BNSF projects the creation of more than 1,700 new jobs in local communities.

This marks the 10th consecutive year that BNSF customers and local economic development organizations have invested more than $1 billion in a calendar year for new or expanded facilities.

“At BNSF, our rail development program offers unique supply chain solutions that fit our customers’ varied logistical needs.” said Colby Tanner, assistant vice president, economic development. “The flexibility of our program provides our customers with the necessary tools to maximize their investments, while saving them time and money in reaching their distinct markets.”

In 2020, new developments supported a wide variety of commodities including consumer, agricultural and industrial products in communities across the BNSF network. Highlights of supply chain solutions BNSF helped its customers achieve in 2020 include:

• Coldpoint Logistics – With a $25 million investment, the cold storage solutions provider opened phase four of their facility located at BNSF’s Logistics Park Kansas City, adding 150,000 square feet of additional space and creating 75 jobs for local communities.

• Delta Peanut – At their facility in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Delta Peanut invested $70 million to add two tracks to their facility for shipping outbound peanuts, creating 130 jobs.

• Ingredion – Invested more than $100 million in South Sioux City, NE and created approximately 50 new roles in the community.

© 2021 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’s New CEO Has Bias for Growth

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Katie Farmer, the new president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway Company is making no bones about her attitude towards BNSF’s future. It is about growth.

“We have always had and will always have a bias for growth,” notes Farmer, in comments to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers. “We are a reflection of what goes on in the industrial and consumer economies. And we all know what happens in those economies: Volumes fluctuate, opportunities present themselves, opportunities go away. And so what that means for us is that we always have to be nimble enough and see growth opportunities in advance and prepare ourselves to be able to say yes.”

BNSF has laid out a 2021 capital investment plan of $2.99 billion, which is down just 2 percent from 2020’s $3.08 billion in capital spending.

“Every year through our capital plan, we work to ensure we are able to continue to operate a safe and efficient rail network, provide our customers with the level of service they have come to expect from BNSF as well as position ourselves for future growth opportunities,” Katie Farmer said.

The largest component of this year’s capital plan will be to replace and maintain BNSF’s core network and related assets, much like last year’s $3.08 billion capital program. Maintaining the railroad results in less unscheduled service outages that can slow down the rail network and reduce capacity.

The maintenance component of this year’s plan is $2.41 billion. The projects included in this part of the plan mostly entail replacing and upgrading rail as well as track infrastructure like ballast and rail ties (which are the main components for the tracks on which BNSF trains operate) and maintaining its rolling stock. It will include nearly 11,000 miles of track surfacing and/or undercutting work and the replacement of 428 miles of rail and approximately 2.6 million rail ties.

Approximately $400 million of this year’s capital plan will be for expansion and efficiency projects, and about $180 million of this year’s capital plan is for freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

On its Southern Transcon route between the West Coast and the Midwest, BNSF will continue a multi-year effort to add several segments of new double-track in eastern Kansas. Once fully completed, BNSF will have 50 miles of additional main track to support traffic growth.

In addition, in the Pacific Northwest, BNSF will continue a multi-year bridge project near Sandpoint, Idaho to increase train capacity.

© 2021 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 Puts Battery-Electric Locomotives Into Service

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BNSF Railway and Wabtec’s development of potential of battery-electric locomotives has reached another significant milestone this week as they begin testing the technology in revenue service between Barstow and Stockton, California.

As BNSF seeks ways to further reduce its environmental impact, the advancement of battery technology offers some possible solutions.

“We’ve got everything in place and we’re ready to see how this next-generation locomotive performs in revenue service,” said John Lovenburg, BNSF vice president, Environmental. “BNSF is focused on continuing to reduce our environmental impact, and we’re committed to doing our part to test and assess the commercial viability of emerging technologies that reduce emissions.”

The pilot test will run from January until the end of March. If the initial pilot proves successful, BNSF will look to expand testing to other locations and operating conditions on its system.

The battery-powered locomotive will be situated in a consist between two Tier 4 locomotives, creating a battery-electric hybrid consist. When running on the mainline, both the battery-electric and diesel locomotives will power the train. The battery-electric locomotive is expected to reduce the environmental impact from emissions along the route in an efficient manner, while improving the fuel economy for the entire consist by at least 10 percent.

This initiative builds on BNSF’s existing investments in sustainable technologies including idle control, electric wide-span cranes, battery-electric hostlers, automated gates at its intermodal facilities, and Tier 4 locomotives. BNSF partnered with Wabtec on the development of the battery-electric locomotive, which features an overall energy-management system, including onboard energy storage that, when coupled with advanced system-optimization controls, will improve consist and train performance.

“The FLXdrive is the world’s first 100-percent, heavy-haul battery-electric locomotive that optimizes the total energy utilization of the entire locomotive consist,” said Alan Hamilton, Wabtec vice president, Engineering. “This technology works in a manner very similar to how electric vehicles use regenerative braking. It’s a significant step forward for the rail industry and will change the course for even cleaner, more energy-efficient transport.”

The battery-electric locomotive pilot program is part of a $22.6 million grant awarded to BNSF and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District from the Zero- and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project by the California Air Resource Board to pilot several emissions-reducing technologies in and around railyards. The ZANZEFF project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.

© 2020 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 Awards Three Newly-Designated Certified Sites

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BNSF Railway has awarded three new locations its Certified Sites designation. All three new sites will bring their respective state’s total count to two in Kansas, Missouri and Texas.

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. All Certified Sites offer the convenience of direct rail service.

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

• New Century AirCenter Business Park, New Century, Kansas – Adjacent to Interstate 35 and with quick access to many of the other Kansas City region interstates, New Century AirCenter Business Park consists of 667 available acres located in unincorporated Johnson County, Kansas.
• Wildwood Ranch, Joplin, Missouri – Conveniently located southeast of U.S. Highway 66, Wildwood Ranch comprises 503 acres divided into two main areas that extend into both Jasper and Newton counties.
• Gateway Industrial Park, Gainesville, Texas – Located in northwest Gainesville and near Interstate 35, Gateway Industrial Park has 126 acres ready for rapid development of rail-served industrial sites.

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.

© 2020 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 a 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 Intermodal Business Up Dramatically

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BNSF Railway has been having a tough year, with overall carloads and intermodal down 8.38 percent from 2019 levels, but there is some very good news. Intermodal shipments, which is one of BNSF strengths, are up a whopping 12.3 percent in the fourth quarter as compared to 2019.

Rail intermodal, which moves shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, has been reaching record levels, and BNSF is the largest intermodal railroad, transporting over a million more intermodal loads annually than its competitors.

Back in July, BNSF noted that the rise in intermodal volume was primarily driven by e-commerce business.

A single train can take upwards of 400 tractor trailers off of highways, saving energy and reducing traffic congestion.

This video shows the scale of BNSF’s intermodal trains.

© 2020 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 Appoints New CEO

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BNSF has announced that Executive Vice President Operations, Kathryn M. Farmer, will become President and Chief Executive Officer on Jan. 1, 2021. As CEO, she will assume leadership of BNSF’s Board of Directors.

Carl R. Ice, current President and Chief Executive Officer, will retire at the end of 2020 and remain on BNSF’s Board of Directors as well.

Farmer has been with BNSF for 28 years, most recently serving as Executive Vice President, Operations since September 2018. In 1992, Farmer joined Burlington Northern as a management trainee and has held leadership positions in every major function of the company including operations, marketing and finance. Prior to her operations role, Farmer led BNSF’s largest business unit as Group Vice President, Consumer Products.

Ice has been with BNSF for 42 years. In 1995, he led a team that orchestrated the merger and subsequent integration of Burlington Northern Railroad and Santa Fe Railway. Since then, he has helped lead the company and culture into what has become the largest Class I railroad in North America. Ice has been integral to the development of the company’s operating and marketing plans.

“I want to thank all of the men and women of BNSF. I am proud of having worked with you and all of the things that we have accomplished together. One of the most important roles of a CEO is to ensure a strong succession plan is in place,” said Ice. “Katie and I have been working toward this plan for a long time. Katie has held many different roles at BNSF with an ever-increasing impact with each new role as she has built trust and confidence throughout BNSF. I am pleased for Katie and the organization knowing BNSF’s future is in good hands. Katie is a shining example of BNSF’s leadership model and BNSF will continue to build upon its legacy.”

As a long-time member of BNSF’s leadership team, Farmer said, “I am humbled and honored to be asked to lead this incredible company and its dedicated employees—men and women that I have worked alongside for almost 30 years. We are well-positioned in our approach to safety and meeting our customers’ expectations while having the necessary capacity to grow with our customers. BNSF has long been a cost leader and we will ensure that continues into the future. I look forward to continuing BNSF’s success.”

“Carl has had a huge impact on this company and this industry having served on BNSF’s leadership team for the entire 25 years of the company’s existence. I have great respect for him and he leaves BNSF well-prepared for the next 25 years,” said Greg Abel, Vice Chairman, Non-Insurance Operations, Berkshire Hathaway. “Katie has had a long career with multiple roles at BNSF which fits well with our efforts to develop our people. Katie’s proven leadership and passion and commitment make her perfect for the role. We’re thrilled that Katie is taking over the role and have the utmost confidence in both her and BNSF’s future success.”

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett said, “BNSF is an iconic company and this is a historic day. Carl has been critical to BNSF’s success for a very long time. I thank him for his leadership and his accomplishments. We look forward to Katie’s leadership and more success. She possesses all of the qualities that make us excited about the future.”

© 2020 David Mazor


Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathawa, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell a 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 and Wabtec Testing Lithium-Ion Locomotive

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

Wabtec has begun testing a prototype 4,400 lithium-ion battery-powered locomotive at its Erie, Pennsylvania, plant.

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. Adding even one battery-powered locomotive to the train could reduce the consist’s total fuel consumption by up to 15 percent.

BNSF and Wabtec (formerly GE Transportation) began the pilot program in 2018.

Currently, Wabtec builds new diesel 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.

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 route — 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 stripped 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 doesn’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.

“We’re developing and testing the ‘next-generation’ locomotive now to build our advantage over long-haul trucks, remain competitive and reduce our operating costs,” BNSF’s Vice-President, Environmental, John Lovenburg, says.

© 2020 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 a 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.