Freight volume increase due to several factors

Better fuel efficiency, shortage of long-haul truck drivers cited


Boys & Girls Club

Sunday, August 5, 2007

GALESBURG -There are a number of factors that have come down the track in recent years to fuel the engine of increased railroad freight volume.

BNSF spokesman Steve Forsberg said although BNSF's freight revenue hit an all-time second quarter record this year, freight volume has been somewhat flat, compared to 2006. The results over the past few years, however, paint a completely different picture.

"BNSF, in particular, over the past several years has absorbed close to half of all rail growth in the railroad industry," Forsberg said. "That's a real testament to our employees and the capital investment made by the railroad."

Forsberg said fuel efficiency of trains compared to trucks, as well as a shortage of over-the-road drivers, have been two major factors in the increase in rail volume. He said some of the nation's largest trucking firms are among BNSF's biggest customers. Many products are shipped by rail from, for instance, Los Angeles to Chicago. Those products are then picked up by trucks, which take care of the short-haul business.

"The long-haul trucking companies have been challenged to find enough drivers," Forsberg said. "They're facing the same economic bubble the rail industry and all U.S. companies are facing. In the U.S., baby boomers make up 25 percent of the workforce."

Forsberg said it will be a challenge to fill what are "going to be very good-paying blue-collar jobs. We think it's an opportunity."

Fuel efficiency not only means saving energy, but is also better for the environment, Forsberg said. He said trains are about three times more fuel efficient than semi-trailers, able to move each ton of freight 400 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel.

Some longer intermodal, double-stacked trains have another advantage, which has helped send more business to the BNSF.

Forsberg said "some can take up to 280 trucks off the long-distance freeways. Our average (intermodal) train takes 220 trucks off the road."

There are a number of reasons the future looks bright for rail freight lines, good news for the Galesburg area because of the possibility of more jobs. Longer trains being one.

"Our biggest intermodal, the 10,000-foot trains, are taking about 400 trucks off the highways," Forsberg said. "We have only done of few of those."

Forsberg said energy and environmental concerns should help continue to drive the rail freight business because of reduced congestion on busy freeways in large cities, reduced wear and tear on the roads and reduced emissions.

As for the three grade separations the city of Galesburg hopes to build over BNSF tracks here, Forsberg downplayed the importance of the overpasses to the railroad's productivity and expansion of the railyard.

However, state Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, thinks it's very important.

"Can I guarantee if they're built there will be an expansion here? No," Moffitt said, though in his view, Galesburg could lose out if it isn't prepared. "I want to be clear. You want to be ready. It's not every day a railroad expands its railyard. I want to take advantage of a window of opportunity."


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