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BNSF Q3 Coal Revenues, Volumes Decline on Lower Electricity Demand



By Tyler Godwin

November 10, 2020 - BNSF Railway reported a decrease in coal volumes and revenue in the third quarter of 2020, primarily due to electricity demand being driven lower by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad reported Q3 coal volumes of 360,000 carloads, up from 292,000 carloads in the prior quarter, but lower than the 482,000 carloads reported in the year-ago quarter, according to its third-quarter earnings report filed Nov. 9 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. It was the lowest coal volumes in a third quarter in over 11 years.

BNSF also said mild winter weather in the first quarter, low natural gas prices, and utility coal plant retirements led to the decrease in volumes.

In the first three quarters of 2020, coal volumes have totaled 1.04 million, down from 1.34 million in the same period a year ago.

Of the total 2.43 million carloads reported in Q3, coal volumes represented 14.8%, up from 13.9% in Q2, but down from 18.2% in the year-ago quarter.

In the third quarter, coal revenues totaled $651 million, compared with $541 million in Q2 and $996 million in the year-ago quarter. Total coal revenues through the first three quarters were at $1.96 billion, down from $2.75 billion a year ago.

Coal's average revenue per unit (RPU) totaled $1,808/car in Q3, down 12% from $2,066/car in the year-ago quarter. However, the latest quarterly RPU increased from $1,853/car in the prior quarter.

Since January, BNSF's average coal RPU was at $1,890/car, down from $2,054/car a year ago.

BNSF reported total operating Q3 revenues of $5.18 billion, down 14% year on year, while total RPU was at $2,021, down 6% from a year ago.

The railroad, which is privately held by investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holding company, transports the most coal in the US, primarily from the Powder River Basin.