BNSF double-tracking transcon

October 8, 2015

Note: The fluidity of the national rail system has a complete and direct impact on the ability of passenger trains to operate safely and in a timely manner.

Warren Buffett building twin rail line in battle for freight

A noisy yellow machine laying down railroad track near Alva — as much as a mile a day of concrete and steel — is Warren Buffett’s solution to the industry’s dwindling coal traffic.

After this year, BNSF Railway Co. will be more than 99 percent finished with a second, parallel line to its 2,200-mile Los Angeles-to-Chicago route, which crosses Oklahoma. Doubling up will create a rail superhighway speeding deliveries of toys, electronics, autos and other goods, because trains won’t have to yield to each other on sidings as they do on single tracks.Website Insert Our Name Tells Our Story copy

The goal: help the unit of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. grab cargo now going by road.

“If the rails can improve the reliability of the transit time,” shipping consultant Satish Jindel said, “it helps them compete with the trucks.”

Snatching consumer products and other freight from big rigs is more crucial than ever. Coal, once a pillar of U.S. rail traffic, is fading as utilities burn cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Average weekly carloads are down 20 percent from five years earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Los Angeles-to-Chicago route links the busiest U.S. container port to the biggest mid-continent rail hub, giving BNSF a leg up in the race to find alternatives to those dwindling coal cars.

And there’s room to grow: consultant FTR Transportation Intelligence estimates that trains now move only about 19 percent of the 71 million trailer loads that travel 550 miles or more, a rough threshold for where rail becomes a viable option.

Read the full story by Bloomberg News reporter Thomas Black in the Tulsa World by clicking here.


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