BNSF pinpoints capital spending to improve its capacity, service

The BNSF Railway, publicly hammered lately by politicians and coal-fired power generators for sub-par coal deliveries, on Jan. 15 announced more details about the major capital projects it plans to complete in 2015 to maintain and grow its rail network.

In BNSF’s North Region, the company will invest approximately $1.5bn across eight states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which approximately $700m is planned for projects to expand the rail lines and Positive Train Control (PTC) in that region. BNSF’s North Region has experienced the most rapid growth in recent years. It is the corridor used to move agriculture and coal to export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, petroleum products produced in the region that are destined for refinery facilities, and for consumer products shipped to and from marine ports in the Pacific Northwest. The North Region is also a destination point for materials that support the production of crude oil in the Bakken shale formation.

In the South Region, BNSF plans to spend around $800m in nine states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which $175m is planned for line expansion initiatives and continued implementation of PTC. The South Region includes BNSF’s high-speed transcontinental route with more than 2,000 miles of double track that allows customers to move freight from West Coast marine ports to interchange facilities in Chicago as well as major rail terminals in Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver and St. Louis.

In the Central Region, primarily used for the movement of coal, BNSF will invest about $650m across six states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which almost $260m is planned for line expansion projects and continued implementation of PTC.

“Building on the 2014 capacity increases, we will continue investing in our railroad to make us ever more capable of getting agriculture, energy supplies and a wide range of consumer and industrial products where they want to go,” said Carl Ice, BNSF president and chief executive officer. “At BNSF, we believe strongly in working with our customers to help them supply the world with food, energy and products that grow and build our economy. These unprecedented capital investments demonstrate to our customers how deeply committed we are to building a prosperous future for all of us.”

Highlights of BNSF’s planned capital investments in the company’s three operating regions are as follows:

North Region

BNSF plans to invest about $700m in the North Region to expand rail capacity and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The North Region includes: Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. Expansion projects include:

  • Continue to install double track on the Glasgow subdivision between Minot, ND, and Snowden, MT, located in the far western part of the state.
  • Extend the siding on the Dickinson subdivision located between Mandan, ND, and Glendive, MT, and expand the terminal at the Dickinson yard to accommodate expected growth in single car volumes.
  • Convert the entire Devils Lake subdivision, located between Minot, ND, and Grand Forks, ND, to centralized train control, which will improve capacity for freight operation while improving on-time performance of passenger trains.
  • Complete implementation of centralized train control on the Hillsboro subdivision, located in eastern North Dakota. Upgrade connection track between the Hillsboro subdivision and the Devils Lake subdivision to permit faster train speeds.

South Region

BNSF plans to invest approximately $175m to expand rail capacity in the South Region and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The South Region includes: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Expansion projects include:

  • Connect two sidings on the Mojave subdivision, which runs from Bakersfield, CA, to Mojave, CA, to create a short double track segment that will increase capacity.
  • Construct double track on the Panhandle subdivision located between Wellington and Avard, OK, to improve Southern Transcon capacity.
  • Construct double track on the Clovis subdivision located between Belen and Clovis, NM, to improve Southern Transcon capacity.

Central Region

BNSF plans to invest around $260m to expand rail capacity and continue the implementation of PTC technology. The Central Region includes: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Wyoming. Expansion projects include:

  • Construct two new sidings on the northern and southern ends of the Hannibal subdivision located in western Illinois.
  • Construct two double track segments on the Ravenna subdivision, located in Nebraska, which will greatly improve capacity on this heavily-trafficked coal route out of the Powder River Basin.
  • Extend sidings at six locations on the Brush subdivision, located east of Denver, to improve the velocity of southern coal flows.

These planned capital investments are part of BNSF’s 2015 capital plan of $6bn, which was announced in November 2014 and is the company’s largest planned capital expenditure in its history. The investments include $2.9bn to replace and maintain core network and related assets, nearly $1.5bn on expansion and efficiency projects, $200m for continued implementation of PTC and about $1.4bn for locomotives, freight cars and other equipment acquisitions.

BNSF Railway is one of North America’s leading freight transportation companies operating on 32,500 route miles of track in 28 states and three Canadian provinces. BNSF is one of the top transporters of consumer goods, grain and agricultural products, low-sulfur coal, and industrial goods such as petroleum, chemicals, housing materials, food and beverages.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.