BNSF Railway is on track to move record volumes on its rail network this year and is making progress on relieving delays and congestion, the chief executive officer said Thursday.
Shipments of agricultural products, coal and other goods have picked up this spring, and the railroad moved more than 206,000 rail units in one week, “more than any railroad had ever handled in a week,” CEO Carl Ice said during a North Texas Commission luncheon.
“BNSF is a very busy place right now,” said Ice, who took on the CEO role in January after longtime CEO Matt Rose was named executive chairman.
Fort Worth-based BNSF and other railroads have come under fire from customers in recent months after a surge in shipments, including crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, and severe winter weather caused long delays. BNSF responded by saying it would hire 5,000 workers and add 500 locomotives to expand its network and ease congestion.
Ice said that BNSF “is definitely making progress” on shipping times and that its capacity improvements are being made throughout the year. Most are expected to be in place by fall.
The company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, has filled more than half of the 5,000 positions and has started to take delivery of new locomotives, with some being built at the new General Electric Co. plant in Fort Worth, just west of Texas Motor Speedway.
While crude oil represents just 4 percent of its business, it has garnered increased attention after a series of derailments that resulted in huge fires.
In December, a BNSF oil train derailed in Casselton, N.D., just west of Fargo, forcing the town to be evacuated. The railroad has called on manufacturers to develop a safer next-generation tank car that can better withstand accidents and said it intends to order 5,000 of the cars.
On Wednesday, Rose addressed the safety issue during an appearance before the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D., saying the industry must show that oil can be transported safely.
“Without focus on the elements of safety, the social license to haul crude by rail will disappear, to say nothing of the regulatory agencies’ response,” Rose said.
On Thursday, Ice said the company has a stellar safety record and is taking additional steps, including reducing speeds, adding inspections and enhancing training.
“It’s important that crude oil moves, but it’s also important that it be moved safely,” he said.