As part of a special series in Railway Age’s March 2022 issue, 11 North American railroad CEOs address what must be done to grow and gain market share from competing freight transportation modes. Katie Farmer, President and CEO of BNSF Railway, is the first to share her perspective.
BNSF was created with growth at the heart of how we operate. This growth mindset is reflected in everything we do, including our capital investments and continued leveraging of technology advancements. It is also an integral part of who we have been, are now, and will be in the future. As our business is impacted by changes in the consumer and industrial economies and agricultural markets, we remain nimble and agile to handle increases and decreases across the markets we serve.
We are committed to having the capacity, equipment and people that allow us to grow with our customers and say “yes” to new business opportunities. Collaborating with our customers is integral to our success. We work with our customers to have the capacity available in the right place and at the right time. We don’t expect our customers to run their business in a way that fits on our network; we strive to match our service and capabilities with their needs.
Part of capturing growth is having a strong cost structure—getting everything we can out of our assets and driving efficiency across the network. That helps us improve our customers’ service and further enables BNSF to provide competitive solutions. Our growth mindset also drives our strategy and positions our network, customer experience, and service product to stay relevant and grow our share in the future.
Since we don’t just focus on growth as an annual objective or for a specific market opportunity, we have grown over time. Using our intermodal business as an example, we’ve seen demand for our intermodal services consistently grow over a long-time horizon, and we have been able to say “yes” because we have been preparing and are ready to provide the service our customers expect. Last year, we moved almost 580,000 more intermodal units vs. just five years ago.
As an industry leader, BNSF is at the forefront of piloting and implementing technologies that allow us to make the shipping process even safer, more reliable and cost-effective for our customers across our network. We have a robust innovation pipeline with initiatives in various development stages, from proof-of-concept exploration to rapid scaling across our operations. In other words, we strive to make it easy to do business with BNSF.
When consumers buy something online, they have an expectation for up-to-date information about when the product is shipping, where it is in the journey and the estimated arrival date. For our customers, it’s the same, except that information is not just for convenience. We know that providing real-time information about their freight is vital to plan their overall supply chains. For BNSF, we believe supply chain management goes beyond our network, and providing our customers with door-to-door visibility of their shipments is key to the mutual success of all parties involved.
To make it easier to communicate real-time shipment data, we offer our customers a suite of Application Programming Interfaces (API). Our APIs allow customers to track their freight from origin to destination, within their internal systems that they use to manage their shipments, ultimately streamlining the communication process between our separate systems by removing manual data entry.
We have also gained greater visibility about our customers’ freight when it’s not on our network and the expectations for when and where the shipment will ultimately end. Having this information allows us to coordinate better the journey of a specific shipment with our customers, allowing them to plan first- and last-mile movements more efficiently and our network, intermodal hubs, and rail equipment to move more fluidly.
Another example of how we have grown over time with our customers is our logistics park strategy, which uses an intermodal hub to anchor nearby distribution centers. This approach helps our intermodal customers substantially lower transportation costs, reduce fuel costs and lower carbon emissions. For our industrial and agricultural customers, we offer logistics centers, multi-customer, multi-commodity business parks. BNSF owns the property and invests directly in developing the facility to create rail-served sites in under-served, strategic, and primarily end-user markets.
At BNSF, we are constantly reinventing, changing and adapting, but it’s to our customers’ benefit for us to be reliably consistent in our bias for growth. You can count on BNSF’s core, foundational elements to remain unchanged so that we will be ready to support our customers’ growth.
Read more of Railway Age’s special CEO Perspectives series:
• Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific: Supply Chain, Market Reach and Sustainability
• JJ Ruest, CN: Railroads Must Lean Into Their Natural Strengths
• Jim Foote, CSX: Performance, Sustainability, Innovation Are Keys to Growing Market Share
• Pat Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern: Competing on a Global Scale
• Alan Shaw, Norfolk Southern: A Simple, Powerful Recipe for Growth
• Lance Fritz, Union Pacific: Solving Customer Problems at the Heart of Innovation
• Peter Gilbertson, Anacostia Rail Holdings: Growing With People
• Dan Smith, Watco: Stay Close to Your Customer
• Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads: A Growing Rail Industry Needs Policy Sanity
• Chuck Baker, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association: Four Parallel Paths to Growth