US Class 1 operator BNSF Railway, which is known as one of the four “giants” in the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio of companies, ended 2021 with big numbers. Both revenue and traffic grew as  BNSF finished the year with record earnings of US$6 billion.

Chairman Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway said: “BNSF continues to be the number one artery of American commerce, which makes it an indispensable asset for America as well as for Berkshire. If the many essential products BNSF carries were instead hauled by truck, America’s carbon emissions would soar. BNSF trains travelled 143 million miles last year and carried 535 million tons of cargo. Both accomplishments far exceed those of any other American carrier. You can be proud of your railroad,” according to Buffett.

BNSF’s operating income rose 13.7% with revenues up 11.6% in 2021. That relates to $8.8 billion in operating income and $22.5 billion in revenue. One of the key indicators is the railway’s operating ratio, which improved to a record high 60.9%.

BNSF volume was up 6.9% for 2021: Coal shipments up 8.9%; Consumer products up 7.7%[ Industrial products up 5.4%[ Ag products up 2.9%.

Revenue increases ranged from: 21.5% up in coal, linked to export demand, increased electric generation and higher natural gas prices; 13.7% up in consumer products with a spike in intermodal traffic; 5.8% up in agricultural products; 5% up in industrial products.

The Berkshire Hathaway annual report also focused on competition to BNSF. “The business environment in which BNSF operates is highly competitive. Depending on the specific market, deregulated motor carriers and other railroads, as well as river barges, ships and pipelines, may exert pressure on price and service levels. The presence of advanced, high service truck lines with expedited delivery, subsidised infrastructure and minimal empty mileage continues to affect the market for non-bulk, time-sensitive freight.

“The potential expansion of longer combination vehicles could further encroach upon markets traditionally served by railroads. In order to remain competitive, BNSF Railway and other railroads seek to develop and implement operating efficiencies to improve productivity. As railroads streamline, rationalize and otherwise enhance their franchises, competition among rail carriers intensifies,” as the report noted. “BNSF Railway’s primary rail competitor in the Western region of the United States is the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Other Class I railroads and numerous regional railroads and motor carriers also operate in parts of the same territories served by BNSF Railway.”

Looking to be greener in the future, the annual report noted that “consumption of diesel fuel by locomotives accounted for approximately 80% of BNSF’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its baseline year of 2018. BNSF management has committed to a broad sustainability model, applying science based approaches, which will provide a 30% reduction in BNSF’s GHG-emissions by 2030 from its baseline year of 2018. BNSF intends to continue improvements in fuel efficiency and increased utilization of renewable diesel fuel. Long-term solutions, such as battery-electric and hydrogen locomotives, are also being evaluated and field-tested,” according to the Berkshire annual report.