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Behind the Freight Volume Loss of BNSF Railway in Week 52

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BNSF Railway’s carload traffic

In the week ended December 30, 2017, Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway (BRK-B) posted a high-single-digit fall in carload traffic. In the 52nd week of 2017, BNSF’s carloads fell 8.6% to ~75,000 units, down from ~82,000 units in the comparable week of last year.

BNSF Railway’s carload traffic shrank in tune with the drop posted by US railroads during the week. The company’s shipments declined at a faster rate in the final week of 2017 than rival Union Pacific’s (UNP) carloads declined.

Carloads other than coal (ARLP) and coke made up 65% of total carloads in the 52nd week of 2017. The balances were coal and coke carloads. Carloads excluding coal and coke fell 4.6% to ~49,000 units from nearly 51,200 units during the same week last year.

Coal and coke railcar traffic fell 15.4%. BNSF Railway hauled ~26,000 coal and coke carloads in the final week of 2017, compared with ~31,000 units during the same week of the previous year.

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Commodity groups in the green and red zones

The following commodity groups were in the green zone:

  • motor vehicles (TSLA)
  • metallic ores
  • pulp and paper
  • sand and gravel

These commodity groups were in the red zone:

  • grain
  • chemicals (DWDP)
  • metals

BNSF’s intermodal volumes

In the 52nd week of 2017, BNSF Railway registered a fall of 2% in intermodal volumes. It moved ~79,000 containers and trailers, which was down 1,600 units from the ~80,500 units it hauled in the final week of 2016.

Container traffic accounted for 87.7% of total intermodal traffic, while trailers shared the rest. BNSF Railway saw a 2.6% fall in container traffic and a 2.4% decline in trailer volumes in the last week of 2017.

BNSF’s carload traffic grew 4.7% and intermodal traffic jumped 6.2% in 2017 on a year-over-year basis. This was much higher, percentage-wise, than other US class-I railroads’ (XLI) volume growth in both categories.

In the next part, we’ll examine Union Pacific’s (UNP) freight volumes in the 52nd week of 2017.

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