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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF posts higher revenue, lower operating ratio in 2017

BNSF Railway Co. posted fourth-quarter and full-year operating income of $2 billion and $7.3 billion respectively, an increase of 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, compared with the same periods in 2016, the Class I reported yesterday.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 6 percent to $5.6 billion, while full-year revenue increased 8 percent to $21.3 billion. BNSF attributed those results to increases in unit volume for the fourth quarter of 3 percent and full year of 5 percent, as well as higher average revenue per car/unit.

The increase in average revenue per car/unit in full-year 2017 was primarily due to higher fuel surcharges, increased rates per car/unit and business mix changes, BNSF officials said in a press release.

The Class I also posted a Q4 2017 operating ratio of 63.2 percent compared with a Q4 2016 operating ratio of 65.1 percent. For the full-year 2017, BNSF posted a 64.7 percent operating ratio compared with a 65.5 percent operating ratio for the full-year 2016.

Operating expenses rose 4 percent in Q4 2017 and 7 percent in the full year compared with the same periods in 2016. BNSF attributed the rise in expenses to increased volumes and inflation, including higher fuel prices.

Among the Class I's business unit Q4 and full-year 2017 volume highlights:
Consumer products climbed 6 percent in the quarter and full year compared with the same periods in 2016, due to higher domestic intermodal, international intermodal and automotive volumes.
Industrial products rose 14 percent and 5 percent for the quarter and full year, respectively, compared with the same periods a year ago. The increases were driven primarily by higher sand and other commodities that support drilling. Additionally, a stronger industrial sector drove greater demand for steel and taconite. The increases were partially offset by lower petroleum products volume due to an increase in the use  pipelines to transport crude oil.
Agricultural products declined 3 percent for the quarter and remained flat for full-year 2017 compared with the same periods in 2016, due to lower grain exports offset by higher shipments of domestic grain as well as ethanol and other grain products.
Coal decreased 9 percent in Q4 and increased 6 percent in the full-year 2017 compared with the year-ago periods. Lower natural gas prices and milder weather drove down volume in Q4. Above target stockpiles at customer facilities and increased renewable generation also contributed to lower utility coal usage. Volume increased for the full year as a result of higher natural gas prices, which led to an increase in utility usage of coal.

In full-year 2017, about 35 percent of BNSF's freight revenue was derived from consumer products, 25 percent from industrial products, 21 percent from agricultural products and 19 percent from coal, according to parent company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s Form 10-K report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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