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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF scores with cost control, misses with revenue and operating ratio


Count Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. as the third Class I to report fourth-quarter financial results that were mostly discouraging, but partly encouraging. Yesterday, BNSF reported quarterly earnings of $1.55 per diluted share — including a tax benefit of 25 cents per share associated with the donation of a line segment in Washington state — compared with $1.78 per diluted share in fourth-quarter 2008. BNSF decided not to conduct an earnings Webcast and teleconference since the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. buyout remains in play.

Fourth-quarter freight revenue decreased 16 percent to $3.57 billion primarily because of an unfavorable fuel surcharge lag. Analysts expected earnings of $1.26 per share and revenue of $3.62 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Coal revenue declined 17 percent to $886 million due to soft demand, a low seasonal burn and weather-related challenges; agricultural products revenue dipped 2 percent to $822 million, although soybean exports were strong and yields improved; industrial products revenues plunged 21 percent to $722 million because of lower demand for construction and building products; and consumer products revenue tumbled 20 percent to $1.1 billion due to lower international volumes.

Overall, traffic volume decreased 12 percent to 2.1 million units. But “we have seen some improvement in volumes during the second half of 2009 and expect this gradual improvement to continue,” said BNSF Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Rose in a prepared statement.

Quarterly operating expenses fell 14 percent to $2.8 billion primarily because of cost controls, decreased volumes and lower fuel prices. However, BNSF’s operating ratio rose 1.2 points to 74.9 compared with fourth-quarter 2008’s ratio.

For the full year, the Class I’s operating ratio dropped 1.6 points to 76 and operating expenses plunged 24 percent to $10.8 billion compared with 2008 figures. Operating revenue declined 22 percent to $14 billion, diluted earnings per share decreased 17 percent to $5.01 and operating income dropped 17 percent to $3.2 billion.

BNSF also announced it’s budgeting $2.4 billion for this year’s capital spending program, about $240 million less than 2009’s budget because the railroad plans to acquire fewer locomotives in 2010 (about 170 units costing $320 million). The Class I expects to spend about $2.1 billion on track, signal systems, structures, freight cars and technologies, including positive train control.

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