Smokehouse Creek Fire Smokes BNSF

Written by Rick Paterson, Managing Director, Loop Capital Markets
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While it’s still technically winter, that hasn’t stopped the largest wildfire in Texas history raging in the panhandle, northeast of Amarillo. There aren’t many people living in this part of the world, but there are two critically important rail routes: the double-track main transcontinental lines for BNSF (Southern Transcon) and Union Pacific, which cut diagonally across the northern edge of the panhandle.

Union Pacific’s line is sufficiently far north to avoid the fires, but BNSF wasn’t so lucky. It’s usually UP that’s getting toasted in Northern California, but it’s BNSF’s turn this time. Just after noon on Feb. 27, fires were reported on BNSF’s Panhandle Subdivision infrastructure through Canadian, Tex., that soon took down both tracks.

BNSF photo

Track 1 came back on line after more than 30 hours, but Track 2 suffered from extensive bridge fire damage and isn’t expected to come back online until  about 7 PM on March 1. Problems on the Southern Transcon of this magnitude reverberate network-wide, and we’ll no doubt see that in next week’s operating data. The only good news is that ample crews and power should limit this to a short-term effect, and the three-day bridge outage could have been worse. Remember, Union Pacific lost a bridge to fire damage for 33 days in 2021, which required extensive re-routes and blew up operating efficiency across the network.

BNSF photo
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