Railway’s profits surge

Three Burlington Northern Santa Fe engines head west toward Clovis as the approach the Prince Street overpass Thursday afternoon. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Burlington Northern Santa Fe profits surged in the last three months due to a strong demand for freight shipping brought on by inflated fuel prices, heightened trade with China and an increased demand for alternative fuels.

Burlington North, the nation’s second-largest railroad operator and one of Clovis’ major employers, reported an 18-percent increase in freight revenue in the third quarter.
Railroads continue to thrive in the face of high oil prices because fuel accounts for a smaller portion of operating costs for rails compared to truckers, making rail a cost-effective alternative to hauling goods.

The surge in rail traffic is at the expense of trucking industries, according to BNSF’s General Public Affairs Director Steve Forsberg.

“Railroads are extremely fuel-efficient,” Forsberg said. “The average train in the U.S. moves each ton of freight 400 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel,” he said.

Revenue from shipping coal, industrial goods and consumer products all set records in the July-September period and agricultural-goods business was also strong, officials said.

Corn-based ethanol as an environmentally friendly additive is a popular California import while the demand for coal by utility companies has also increased, Forsberg said.

With China’s 2001 entrance into the World Trade Organization, U.S. economic relations with the foreign nation has been more predominant, Forsberg said.

“Clovis is an important crew change point in New Mexico. Lion shares of traffic to and from Asia pass through New Mexico,” he said.

Mostly consumer goods — “what you’d find at Wal-Mart or Best Buy” — constitute the bulk of the freight on trains passing through Clovis, Forsberg said, with many of these goods imported from China.

The transport of raw materials and grain from U.S. states (through New Mexico) en route to China has expanded because of China’s growing economy, Forsberg said.

The increased freight revenue parallels burgeoning shareholder profit. BNSF projects share prices will rise 25 percent in the next three months, compared to last year’s fourth quarter earnings.

This year, Burlington Northern reports a 20 percent increase in shares.

For years, BNSF has awarded stock options to employees and unions have routinely offered profit-sharing plans, Forsberg said.

Forsberg said he doesn’t know the corporation’s overall hiring projections, but “more than 80,000 workers will be hired” to replace retiring workers in upcoming years, he said, and hiring will be evenly dispersed across the Fort Worth, Texas-based company.

At least 40 Clovis BNSF employees have been hired this year due to a high level of retirement, according the United Transportation Union’s Local Clovis chairman Bill Ingram.

Clovis has 236 trainmen, consisting of conductors, brakemen and switchman, and at least 100 track maintenance workers and welders according to Ingram’s estimate. One of BNSF’s busiest lines runs between Clovis and Belen, with 120 trains passing through every 24 hours, Forsberg said.

“The number of trains is increasing, trains are longer, many are almost 8,000 feet long now,” he said.