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As farmers plant, BNSF plans for 2015

By Staff | May 9, 2015

-Farm News photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby THREE BNSF ENGINES stand ready to hook up to and transport grain cars from Yetter.

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NORTHWEST IOWA – Iowa farmers and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad are both planning their 2015 crop years – one in growing farm products and the other making rail cars available to transport it.

Amy Casas, director of BNSF’s corporate communications, in Fort Worth, Texas, said the railroad serving the Midwest and western part of the U.S. has been working hard to overcome some of the transportation problems faced last fall.

“We told our agricultural customers last fall that our goal (for the current year) is to offer as much freight as the previous year during the 2014 harvest,” Casas said, “that we would become more predictable and consistent.

“And, we said we would communicate more frequently. While we have accomplished all of that we realize, however, our work is never done by any means.”

BNSF is now running at a more consistent pace, she said. “It’s seen steady improvement of agricultural velocity for the past few months, driven by our efforts to expand capacity through capital investment.”

Consistent with this, she said, is a steady increase in the railroad’s agricultural fleet miles per day along with a reliably faster primary grain export route going west to the Pacific Northwest.

“Since our operations have significantly stabilized across the agricultural network,” Casas said, “we expect to meet customer demands during the 2015 harvest season and beyond.”

Casas said BNSF’s $6 billion planned capital expenditures in 2015 reflect’s the railroad’s pledge to meet its customers’ ever-growing freight shipment demands.

She said the plan marks the third consecutive year that BNSF has committed a record amount for capital investments, including $2.9 billion to replace and maintain core network and related assets, nearly $1.5 billion on expansion and efficiency projects and $1.4 billion for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

“These investments are helping us to help Iowa farmers to link to markets both domestic and abroad helping them to important marketing benefits,” Casas said.

The plan calls for BNSF to acquire approximately 7,800 rail cars through purchase and long-term leases, with approximately 900 of the wider and shorter cover-hopper grain cars, allowing shippers to maximize the amount of grain handled.

A train’s footprint, Casas said, may increase shuttle numbers from 110 to 116 rail cars. Meanwhile, BNSF is investing $5.5 billion to bolster its fleet of locomotives adding more than 600 locomotives.

“These completed improvements have already shown results.” Casas said. “The cost of rail cars in an important secondary market has tumbled, a sign that shippers are confident that cars will arrive when they are needed.”

She said that building on progress made in 2014, an additional 55 miles of double track was added along BNSF’s northern corridor, the Glasgow subdivision running between eastern Montana and western North Dakota, plus another 17 miles of double track through eastern Washington.

The railroad’s northern line gained 23 new or extended sidings to support additional volume.

Another of the2015 improvements, Casas said, will be in centralized traffic control added to more than 800 miles of the network to support more efficient train flows.

This state-of-the-art technology will control train movements by decreasing the reliance on manual processes in favor of a centralized, automated approach, she said.

BNSF hauled nearly 1 million carloads of agricultural commodities in 2014, she said, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the company’s volumes.

Included among the products were, corn, fertilizer, bulk foods, ethanol, soybeans, feeds, oil seeds and meals, barley, oats and rye, oils, flour and mill products, specialty grains, malt and milo.

2014 woes

“We clearly understand that for much of 2014 we did not meet the expectations for service of our agricultural customers,” Casas said. “We experienced strong growth across the north in volume, particularly as we came through harvest.

“We moved record volumes of corn, wheat and soybeans, originating from the four states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota,” she said, adding that 2014 volumes were also up 10 percent when compared to the previous year.

Improvements, Casas said, are in some cases attributed to a milder winter and farmers storing more grain both of which lessened stress on the railroad.

She said 11 more grain unit trains were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2014 than the year earlier.

The rail lines fertilizer shipments in the 2014/2015 crop year also showed a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

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