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BNSF Railway: Intermodal Growth Lagged Carload Gains in Week 30

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BNSF carload volumes in Week 30

BNSF Railway (BRK.B) reported a 4.5% YoY (year-over-year) increase in carload traffic in Week 30. During the week, the Western US major railroad company hauled ~103,300 railcars excluding intermodal compared to ~98,800 units in the corresponding period of 2017.

BNSF’s rival Union Pacific (UNP) registered 2.3% YoY growth in its Week 30 carload traffic. UNP’s carload traffic growth in the week in percentage terms was one-half of BNSF Railway’s gains in the same category. However, BNSF’s carload volume gains were much higher than US railroad (IYT) companies’ overall 1.2% rise in Week 30.

The railroad’s commodity groups other than coal and coke made up 64.0% of its total carload traffic in Week 30. Coal and coke carloads made up 36.0% of its total carload traffic. Traffic of commodity groups excluding coal and coke grew a robust 14.2% YoY during the week.

BNSF Railway hauled 65,700 railcars excluding coal and coke in Week 30 compared to ~57,500 in the same week of 2017. Its coal and coke railcars, however, declined 9.0% YoY to ~37,600 units in the week from ~41,300 units.

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Changes in carload commodity groups

The following commodity groups led Week 30’s carload volume rise:

  • grain
  • motor vehicles
  • chemicals
  • metallic ores
  • sand and gravel
  • petroleum products

The following commodity group pulled down overall carload volumes in Week 30:

  • farm (no grain)

BNSF’s intermodal volumes

In Week 30, BNSF Railway’s intermodal volume growth was much lower than the rise in its carload traffic. The railroad’s intermodal traffic grew just 0.44% YoY to ~105,300 trailers and containers from ~104,900. On the other hand, Union Pacific’s YoY intermodal traffic gains reached 6.1%, substantially higher than BNSF’s intermodal traffic gains that week.

Container traffic accounted for 87.1% of total intermodal volumes in Week 30, and trailer traffic accounted for 12.9%. Container traffic contracted 2.2% YoY to ~91,700 units from ~93,800. Trailer traffic reported a robust 22.5% rise in the week. 

BNSF hauled ~13,600 trailers in Week 30, up 2,500 from ~11,100. In the first 30 weeks of 2018, BNSF Railway’s total railcar traffic including intermodal rose 5.1% YoY compared to US railroad companies’ overall 3.9% growth.

Class I railroads’ Q2 operating margins

Among the major US-originated Class I railroads (IYT), only Norfolk Southern (NSC) and CSX (CSX) were able to grow their operating margins in the second quarter. However, Union Pacific (UNP) and Kansas City Southern (KSU) witnessed minor contractions in their second-quarter operating margins.

Next, we’ll take a look at Union Pacific’s rail traffic volumes.

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