In an address that’s still timely as Washington state grapples with controversial oil and coal terminal proposals, BNSF Railroad Executive Chairman Matthew Rose discusses why a smoothly functioning freight rail infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest is so essential to the region’s economy, and to global trade.
His remarks came at the 2015 Summit of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region last July. Rose, who also serves on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told the audience that “the freight rail industry is a kaleidoscope of what’s going on in the broader economy.”
Here’s the video in full of Rose’s talk, including Q & A – and here are some key take-aways.
- BNSF moves more than 220 million tons of freight yearly across the Northern Tier, everything from food and clothing to home-building materials. “In Washington state alone, freight rail activity generates over $28 billion a year to the…economy. It connects about 300,000 people, workers, that “are dependent on the competitiveness of BNSF’s infrastructure.”
- BNSF has invested $5.5 billion across its network in 2014 and a projected $6 billion-plus in 2015 “with much of it between Chicago and Pacific Northwest ports. In Washington state alone, 40 percent of all the jobs are tied to trade.”
- Rose said, “Over the past several years there’s been a shift in public conversation. We’re increasingly faced with a community that no longer connects our ports and transportation supply chain to regional economic growth….anti-trade policies and unfavorable comments by elected officials because they don’t like certain commodities..has a chilling effect on the region’s ability to attract business and be competitive…Ocean carriers have left key Northwest ports and the potential for more to do that is real.”
- “Our mantra must be that we’re open for business. With that business comes economic growth that means good, family-wage jobs, stronger transportation infrastructure, and strong tax revenues, taxes that build our schools, roads and pay for all the services that we require each and every day.”
- Crude oil being transported by rail represents less than five percent of all BNSF traffic but that’s up from one percent in 2006. “The crude-by-rail franchise has been one of the strongest growth areas in our industry, and abundant American energy has been a significant factor in overall economic growth as the economy emerged out of the recession. While the rail industry grew at more than 150 percent in petroleum products from 2009 to 2014, keep in mind that was from a standing start. Oil still represents about two percent of overall U.S. rail volumes.”
- Coal shipments on BNSF dropped from 25 percent of volume in 2009 to less than 20 percent in 2014 due to the dropping price of natural gas and EPA regulations to mothball coal plants and prevent new ones from being built. Currently on the West Coast, coal from Wyoming’s Powder River basin is moved to British Columbia ports. “Pacific Rim customers like the quality of our coal, consistency of service and the supply diversity the achieve with U.S. buyers,” Rose said.
- Proposed coal export and crude oil export facilities in Washington create understandable political tensions and if a project has environmental impacts “these should be identified and mitigated. What we’re asking for is fair, objective and timely review.”