Coal shipments down 50 percent
HOT SPRINGS – Rumors circulating around the community about Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) possibly eliminating its current Edgemont stop appear to be true, according to a statement from BNSF, issued Monday, March 14.
Rumors have been circulating since last month that the company was considering eliminating the Edgemont stop.
At the March 1 Fall River County commissioners meeting, Commissioners Joe Falkenburg and Deb Russell said they had talked to several railroad people who shared with them how trains might no longer stop in Edgemont, and how this could have grave consequences for the county, since there are many railroad employees – perhaps 200 families – living in the area.
Falkenburg even suggested the county get involved in trying to keep the railroad workers here.
On Tuesday, March 8, The Star reached out to BNSF to find out what the official word about Edgemont would be.
At that time, BNSF Public Affairs Regional Director Matt Jones said the company hadn’t announced any plans to cut out its train stop at Edgemont.
However, information from railway workers disputed this. They claimed BNSF filed paperwork with the worker’s unions after Jones’s statement that stated BNSF planned to no longer stop in Edgemont and eliminate their crews there.
Monday, March 14, BNSF regional Public Affairs Director Amy McBeth, “BNSF has initiated discussions with local employees and union representatives in Edgemont about operational changes necessary to remain a competitive transportation provider on our coal routes.”
McBeth said coal volumes being shipped by rail were down by about 50 percent, compared to this time last year.
“This significantly reduced demand for coal means BNSF is operating fewer trains in the region and must adjust its operations accordingly,” McBeth said. “The changes being considered will likely result in a transfer over time of crew jobs from Edgemont to Alliance and/or Gillette. BNSF will continue to have employees based in Edgemont, and the current proposals do not affect maintenance, mechanical or other jobs in the area.”
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She said more specifics about the future of the Edgemont stop were not available because “discussions are ongoing.”
McBeth maintained that BNSF “expects to continue to be a prominent economic presence in Edgemont and will continue to work with existing and new customers to develop business opportunities in the area.”
“We understand the community will have concerns about local impacts, and we will provide more information as it becomes available,” she said.
Earlier this year, BNSF Railway President and Chief Executive Officer Carl Ice told investors that BNSF was in “the best shape it has ever been,” while putting forth a $4.3 billion 2016 capital expenditure plan, $1.5 billion less than 2015’s efforts.
However, Ice’s “best shape” comments came on the heels of December 2015 layoffs of about 100 railway workers in rail yards in Grand Forks, Mandan and Minot, North Dakota and in western Minnesota.
“Our workforce needs are driven by our customers’ freight transportation needs,” McBeth said in December, claiming had to “adjust” the workforce down to match this reduced volume, although she fully expect to call the furloughed employees back as soon as business needs require.
Also, other railroads are laying off workers.
One report listed 2,000 railroad job cuts during 2015 as railroad companies, including BNSF, Union Pacific and the Canadian National Railway, tried to cushion earnings slumps thanks to declining amounts of grain, oil and coal being shipped.
Bloomberg data, based on Association of American Railroads (AAR) statistics, shows a rail carload decline of 2.3 percent since June of 2015 – a big change from 2014, when railroads hired as fast as possible due to record grain crops, oil at $100 per barrel, and a rebound in coal shipments.
U.S. railroads hired more than 3,300 in 2014 – the highest level since 2007 – according to AAR and Census Bureau data.