With Rail Traffic Down Nationally, BNSF Furloughs Employees

It's unclear how many of railroad’s 2,500 Montana employees will be impacted

By Justin Franz
A BNSF Railway employee guides an engine into a connection with other train cars at the yard in Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

BNSF Railway is furloughing employees in Northwest Montana and across its 32,000-mile system as freight traffic on America’s rails declines.

According to the Association of American Railroads, the number of freight car loads moved during the first full-week of May was down 7.9 percent from the same week last year. Freight traffic on America’s railroads were also down 5.3 percent in April when compared to the same month last year.

In a statement to the Beacon, BNSF spokesperson Matt Jones said that the railroad has temporarily furloughed employees at its terminals across the country, including Whitefish, Shelby and Havre. However, Jones said the railroad plans on bringing back all of the furloughed workers as soon as business permits.

Jones could not say how many people had been temporarily let go in the Flathead Valley. The railroad had more than 2,500 employees in the state at the end of 2014.

“Our workforce needs are driven by our customers’ freight transportation needs. Customers’ volumes in the near term have come down somewhat from their prior estimates. As a result we are having to adjust our workforce demand numbers down to match volume and the work required to move that volume,” Jones said. “As part of that, we are reducing the hiring plans for the next several months and are, unfortunately, having to temporarily furlough some of our employees.”

According to the AAR, while shipments of some commodities were up nationally during the first week of May others were down from last year, including coal, metallic ores and metals, and grain.

Although BNSF does not release specific traffic numbers to the public, information released by the state of Montana shows that the number of crude oil trains from North Dakota is also down this spring. In September 2014, as many as 18 oil trains were traveling through the Flathead Valley every week. But earlier this month, BNSF told the state that oil traffic through the area had fallen to eight to 12 train loads a week.