During his keynote speech to Golden Growers members, Matt Jensen discussed problems the railroad has experienced recently. “Frequent and Extreme winter weather has resulted in slower train speeds, longer car dwell at terminals, the need for additional locomotives, and reduced work productivity.”
BNSF is very experienced with winter conditions. “Winter conditions are tough, but we believe we are better than any railroad in winter operations.” He relayed how they prepare their locomotives and rail cars for seasonal extremes by numerous winterization measures to increase reliability. Jensen explained how winter operations are different. BNSF has proactively winterized over 1,500 locomotives. This includes heated air drains for moisture that can get in air lines and the relocation of locomotive air pipes, so they are less susceptible to freezing. BNSF has also replaced more than 33,000 railcars valve systems and replaced more than 6,300 gaskets between railcars. This will ensure air isn’t allowed to escape the train brake system during extreme cold weather. Railcar values and gaskets need to be replaced and changed to avoid frozen air hoses. And when major snow events occur, it takes crews several days for crews to clear the snow in rail yards so operations can resume.
Jensen relayed BNSF efforts to become fully staffed. “We achieved our hiring goal for 2022 of 3,000 new employees. For 2023, we are planning for 3,000 more.” According to Jensen, half of those hired are for additional train crews. To meet goals, they have enhanced recruiting efforts to include hiring incentives, streamlined applications, and engagement with high schools, colleges, and military communities. Jensen acknowledged that it takes time to get fully staffed. “New hire training for conductors can take up to 15 weeks to complete”
From a North Dakota perspective, BNSF has 1200 employees maintains over 1500 route miles, and ships around 325,000 carloads from the state annually. Over the past ten years, BNSF has invested $1.5 billion into rail assets within the state.