Railroads report mixed intermodal signals

The first quarter 2002 earnings from railroads Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) indicate that efforts to grow their intermodal business at the expense of long-haul truckers seems to have stalled for the moment. Richmond, VA-based NS said its income from continuing operations climbed to $86 million this quarter, up from $61 million in the same period last year.

The first quarter 2002 earnings from railroads Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) indicate that efforts to grow their intermodal business at the expense of long-haul truckers seems to have stalled for the moment.

Richmond, VA-based NS said its income from continuing operations climbed to $86 million this quarter, up from $61 million in the same period last year. Revenues for the quarter slipped 2.7%, however, dropping to $1.5 billion.

NS said its intermodal revenues declined 2% to $270 million this quarter, largely because of costly conversions of trailers to containers and the removal of a fuel surcharge that was imposed during last year's first quarter in response to high diesel fuel prices. However, NS president & CEO David Goode said the railroad would continue to pursue more intermodal business.

"Our focus for the coming quarters centers on providing unprecedented customer service, attracting freight from the highways and improving asset utilization," Goode said.

Fort Worth, TX-based BNSF said it had more luck with intermodal business this quarter, though its earnings still dropped. Its operating income dopped to $368 million this quarter compared with $419 million in the same period last year, with freight revenues for the quarter down 6% to $2.14 billion.

However, while BNSF said consumer products revenues decreased 3% to $778 million this quarter, reflecting decreased automotive shipments and lower levels of less-than-truckload (LTL) traffic. The company said those losses were partially offset by new truckload business and higher international volumes for intermodal.

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