BNSF employees help deliver U.S. mail in annual Pony Express ride

Hashknife Pony Express 2015

With the help of two determined BNSF employees, the Old West was again brought to life in Arizona for the annual journey of the Hashknife Pony Express. 

Each year, the U.S. Postal Service puts its unofficial motto – “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” – to the test. Volunteers are sworn in to deliver mail 200 miles from Holbrook, Ariz., to Scottsdale, outside of Phoenix, on the Hashknife Pony Express. The Hashknife was a tool used by chuck wagon cooks to cut meat, which was then often fed to cowboys on the range. 

By car, the journey would take just a few hours, but by horseback, it takes riders three days. Shawn Maestas, signal inspector, Holbrook, and Billy Fischer, engineer, Los Lunas, N.M., participate each year. Maestas has been riding with the group for seven years, and Fischer has been with the group for more than 25 years. 

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BNSF employees help deliver U.S. mail in annual Pony Express ride

Amarillo Station

In April 1887, J. T. Berry and a group of Colorado City merchants sought to establish a town site that would serve as a future stop for the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway (FW&D) in the Texas Panhandle.With the railroad rapidly building toward the Panhandle, Berry and company created the Oneida settlement in a well-watered area of Potter County. Later renamed Amarillo for the yellow flowers surrounding the nearby river and lake, Berry represented the town as it competed with the town of Washburn for the designation of county seat. With the support of the local Frying Pan Ranch, the electors voted for Amarillo, and the railroad arrived shortly after, making the town one of the fastest growing cattle marketing centers in history.


On June 19, 1888, the owner of the Frying Pan Ranch, Henry B. Sanborn, and business partner Joseph F. Glidden began to purchase land east of Amarillo out of a growing concern about possible flooding of the lower-elevation site chosen by Berry. Sanborn and Glidden urged Amarillo shop owners to move to the new location on Polk Street by offering to trade new lots for old and help with moving costs. While people gradually began to move to the new location, heavy rains in 1889 proved the entrepreneurs correct in their assessment of the old site, and the rest of the town relocated. Subsequently, Sanborn and Glidden’s new location became the new county seat in 1893.


While the cattle industry is largely responsible for Amarillo’s initial population growth and continued importance as a major railroad hub, the discovery of oil and natural gas in the early 1900s continued to bolster the town’s position. Eventually, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad both followed the lead of the FW&D in creating stations in Amarillo. Today, BNSF still heavily uses the acquired route of FW&D (which dropped “City” from its name in 1951) for coal and intermodal transportation to and from the western United States.


The former Santa Fe route through Amarillo is a key link in BNSF’s route for intermodal and other traffic between the central United States and California. While most Santa Fe Chicago-California passenger trains were routed via western Kansas and Raton Pass on the New Mexico-Colorado border, the San Francisco Chief provided connections from Amarillo to points east and west, complementing FW&D passenger train services to points north and south. During the World War II years, Amarillo was also served by such Santa Fe passenger trains as the Grand Canyon Limited and The Scout.

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Amarillo Station

BNSF senior special agent responds to school bus rollover, works alongside son to help passengers

BNSF Senior Special Agent Bryan Schaffer and his son, James, worked together to help passengers after a school bus rollover in Alabama.

On Jan. 23, Bryan Schaffer, senior special agent in Birmingham, Ala., was driving home in the rain when something unsettling came up on his police radio.

“I heard there was an accident involving a loaded school bus in nearby Pinson,” said Schaffer. He immediately went to assist and was one of the first three responders at the scene.
The bus driver had pulled over to the side of the road, but the ground was saturated and slick, so the bus slid into a ditch, first face down then onto its side.
BNSF's Bryan Schaffer responded to a school bus rollover in Pinson, Ala.Schaffer’s son, James, a Center Point Fire District fire explorer, arrived several minutes after him.
“We triaged patients. Everybody was crying and upset,” Schaffer recalled. “I’m glad we were there because you need as many people as you can in any incident that is that big.”
There were no serious injuries. However, 10 children were transported to Children's of Alabama Hospital. Most injuries consisted of bumps, bruises and scratches.
Schaffer reflected on the relationship BNSF police agents have with local law enforcement.
“BNSF Police rely heavily on local agencies. I have a personal relationship with all of the agencies along our track in my region,” explained Schaffer. “If I know they need assistance, I will go and back them up, just like they will back me up when I need help. It’s a partnership.”
Schaffer is proud that his position at the railroad allows him to help others. “I enjoy giving back to my community and supporting those who support my job,” he added.
About the photo: BNSF employee Bryan Schaffer, right, and his son, James, worked together to triage patients after the accident.
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BNSF senior special agent responds to school bus rollover, works alongside son to help passengers

Santa Fe Railway 55 and San Bernardino Shops

The American Locomotive Company (Alco) built PA locomotives for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (ATSF) Railway between 1946 and 1948 in Schenectady, New York. ATSF purchased 28 PA1 and 15 PB1 units from Alco. Alco’s first production PA1-PB1-PA1 set was displayed in New York before being delivered to the Santa Fe.


The main competition for the PA (with P designating its use as a passenger locomotive, A for a cab unit or B for a cabless booster unit, and 1 representing its status as the first model) was the E-unit produced by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD). One major difference between the PA and the E-unit was the PA’s use of a single 2,000- horsepower diesel engine, while EMD’s E7, introduced in February 1945, was powered by two diesels with 1,000 horsepower each.


The PA’s handsome styling and long nose also set it apart from the E-units. Its Amplidyne generator excitation system, which allowed the use of circuit breakers rather than fuses, was an important first in locomotive manufacturing. The truck was arranged in an A-1-A configuration, with the two outer axles of each truck powered and the center axle assisting with even distribution of the locomotive’s weight, providing a smoother ride for passengers.


The first PA built by Alco, which was also the builder’s 75,000th locomotive, was ATSF 51. Despite a strong marketing campaign and the locomotive’s sleek look, the PAs were largely unsuccessful because of reliability issues with their diesel engines and the overwhelming popularity of the E-units; a total of only 297 PA cabs and boosters were built before production ended in 1953. The Santa Fe used some of its PAs for over 20 years, but most PAs were gone by the late 1960s.



ATSF 55, pictured above center, was a PA1 model locomotive built between 1946 and 1948. The photo was taken in the 1950s at Santa Fe’s diesel repair facility in San Bernardino, Calif. The original shops were built in 1886 and the main shop buildings were constructed between 1920 and 1930.


The San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum contains memorabilia and historic photographs of the shops as well as many other historic materials of the Santa Fe. ATSF’s San Bernardino Depot, which houses the museum, has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Passenger and Freight Depot.

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Santa Fe Railway 55 and San Bernardino Shops

Details of BNSF's plan to invest $6 billion in 2015 to expand capacity, maintain network

 Graphic shows details of BNSF's plan to invest $6 billion to maintain and improve its rail network in 2015.

BNSF announced in January more details about the major capital projects it plans to complete in 2015 to maintain and grow its rail network. Click the image above to view a full-size PDF.

In BNSF's North Region, the company will invest approximately $1.5 billion across eight states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which approximately $700 million* is planned for projects to expand the rail lines and Positive Train Control (PTC) in that region. BNSF's North Region has experienced the most rapid growth in recent years. It is the corridor used to move agriculture and coal to export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, petroleum products produced in the region that are destined for refinery facilities, and for consumer products shipped to and from marine ports in the Pacific Northwest. The North Region is also a destination point for materials that support the production of crude oil in the Bakken shale formation.  

In BNSF's South Region, the railroad plans to spend approximately $800 million in nine states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which $175 million is planned for line expansion initiatives and continued implementation of PTC. The South Region includes BNSF's high-speed transcontinental route with more than 2,000 miles of double track that allows customers to move freight from West Coast marine ports to interchange facilities in Chicago as well as major rail terminals in Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver and St. Louis. 

In the Central Region, primarily used for the movement of coal, BNSF will invest approximately $650 million across six states for engineering maintenance and line expansion projects, of which almost $260 million is planned for line expansion projects and continued implementation of PTC. 

Read the full news release on

* Illinois is included in the disclosure of the planned expenditure for the North Region despite the state being part of the company's South Region. In this announcement Illinois was included in the North Region because the Chicago complex also serves as an origination and destination point for traffic along that corridor. Illinois was also included in the North Region reporting when BNSF's 2014 capital expenditure was announced in the prior year.

 Projects presented are the BNSF capital projects as of this date; changes may be made to the projects throughout the year. BNSF undertakes no obligation to update these planned expenses in the future.

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Details of BNSF's plan to invest $6 billion in 2015 to expand capacity, maintain network

Automotive facilities develop nighttime loading and unloading capabilities

Crews use both magnetic LED lights inside the railcar and headlamps for greater visibility after dark.
One of the marks of the stronger economy has been an increase in consumer demand for vehicles, as well as BNSF serving some new automotive plants in the U.S. and Mexico. The sharp uptick in automotive volumes has led BNSF to develop new capabilities to effectively handle this business, including adding nighttime loading and unloading at its automotive facilities to supplement its traditional daytime operations.
“With this growth, BNSF is expanding capacity through infrastructure and improved processes. As part of our continuous improvement efforts, the Automotive team determined extended unloading hours could be accomplished at night given the lighting technology improvements that now make this a safe and efficient option,” said Chris Carlsen, regional manager of automotive facility operations in Fort Worth.
Last year the Automotive team at the Alliance facility in Haslet, Texas tested four new light sources and benchmarked sources used at other loading facilities. The team identified a few options that might work for nighttime unloading. After the team made sure the new LED lights met all Association of American Railroads (AAR) rules for adequate loading and unloading of finished vehicles, they asked a light expert to analyze the results. They also sought the auto unloaders’ input, which was highly favorable.
The team selected new lights and looked for more ways to ensure a high level of safety. At dusk, unloaders attach small magnetic lights to the railcar’s interior, opposite each vehicle’s tire. The LED lights, along with headlamps worn by unloaders, provide enough light to safely and effectively inspect and unload after dark.
The first night this method was used, an additional 61 railcars of finished vehicles were unloaded that may have had to wait until the next day.  Since that time, more than 11,000 vehicles have been safely unloaded at night.
About the photos: Crews use both magnetic LED lights inside the railcar and headlamps for greater visibility after dark.
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Automotive facilities develop nighttime loading and unloading capabilities

Military experience, mechanical skill prepared Richard Keeney for railroad career

BNSF is proud to hire military men and women after they have returned home from serving our nation. In fact, BNSF and its predecessor lines have a long history of hiring our country’s veterans. People who have served in the military often have skills and characteristics well suited for the world of railroading. 

This story is part of a series on current and past BNSF employees who have served in the U.S. military. 


Richard Keeney served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War before joining ATSF.Serving in the Vietnam War

Richard Keeney was born and raised in Hickman Mills, Mo., a small town south of Kansas City, Mo. As a child, Keeney was interested in mechanics and the military.

He tried several times to join different service branches, but was not accepted due to medical problems he had experienced since childhood. In 1961, the Marine Corps gave Keeney a chance.  Keeney trained to serve as a crew chief and aircraft mechanic on Marine helicopters, and then he volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War.

Keeney’s squadron, HMM-364, deployed to Vietnam in January of 1964. The initial assignment was to fly combat missions out of Da Nang.  After losing several aircraft in combat and giving the rest to the Vietnamese Air Force, the squadron transferred to Okinawa, Japan to receive newer UH-34D helicopters. The squadron was then assigned carrier duty on the USS Valley Forge. They spent 90 days on the carrier just off the North Vietnamese coast, flying missions.

Becoming an active reservist and railroader

Keeney left the Marines in July 1965. He thought his military days were over, but after a couple of years serving as a police officer in Missouri, Keeney signed up to serve as an air reserve technician. This full-time reservist position was with the 442nd Tactical Airlift Wing at Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Belton, Mo.

Richard Keeney is now retired from BNSF.
After five years as a reservist, Keeney began to look for another job. His uncle, Ralph Bomm worked in Topeka at the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) and encouraged him to apply for a mechanics position at the company. Keeney started working for the Santa Fe in the Argentine Shop in Kansas City, Kan. as a journeyman machinist. He remained in the Reserves until retiring in 1985.

Keeney worked for ATSF and then BNSF for 30 years. Looking back, Keeney says, “Although I was assigned dirty tasks in the machine shops, I liked it and I knew that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.” Keeney retired in 2005 as the lead machinist assigned to planning at the Kansas City Diesel Shop.

Keeney says there are a lot of similarities between serving in the military and working for a railroad. “Both jobs require the same amount of dedication and commitment to excellence. You are in charge of making sure your machine runs – it is basically the same, except locomotives don’t have wings. The military and railroad are both a lifestyle. Once you learn it, you can transfer it easily.”

In his retirement, Keeney is an active member of his local church, the American Legion, working with Hospice and being a grandfather.

BNSF is hiring!

BNSF has committed to hiring a minimum of 5,000 military veterans by 2018, and is currently hiring large numbers of employees in multiple locations around its rail network. If you’re a veteran or preparing to transition out of the military and you’re looking for a rewarding career, please visit our careers website at to learn more.  You’re also welcome to join our Linked In group, “BNSF Military Recruiting,” where you can ask questions directly of our military recruiters.

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Military experience, mechanical skill prepared Richard Keeney for railroad career

1930s hostler refills locomotive sandbox

The photo above, taken in the 1930s, shows a locomotive hostler refilling an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) steam locomotive’s sandbox with sand.


Sand is used to provide extra traction for locomotive wheels when rails are wet or icy or covered with leaves or other debris or when the locomotive is starting a heavy train. The sandbox was typically located on top of the boiler of a steam locomotive along with the steam dome and whistle, bell and other appliances.


At the end of each run, steam locomotives were topped off with fuel (coal or oil), water, sand and lubricants. Sand was delivered to locomotive servicing facilities, where it was dried before being loaded aboard locomotives.


Locomotive hostlers’ duties also included moving engines around locomotive servicing facilities, oiling and basic locomotive maintenance. Many locomotive hostlers eventually became locomotive engineers.


In the background is an ATSF E-unit diesel locomotive painted in the famous Warbonnet design.

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1930s hostler refills locomotive sandbox

Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway steamships

As a jointly formed fledgling company of Northern Pacific (NP) and Great Northern (GN), the Spokane, Portland and Seattle (SP&S) Railway also served as an intermediary for its parent companies in real estate and steamship ventures.


Twin steamships Great Northern (top) and Northern Pacific (below) operated as the flagship vessels for the Great Northern Pacific Steamship Company, of which the SP&S owned all outstanding shares. The SP&S contracted the construction of these two vessels in Philadelphia at a cost of $4,463,500.


The primary purpose of these ships was to provide a fast passenger service between Oregon and California in competition with the Southern Pacific Company’s steamship line, the immediate incentive being the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. The two ships performed their job so well, running at a 20-knot speed with a crew of 201, that they became known as the two fastest ships under the American flag, conducting service between Flavel (Astoria). Ore., on the Columbia River and San Francisco on a 27-hour schedule, making six round trips monthly.


World War I brought an end to this venture when the U.S. government purchased the Great Northern and Northern Pacific for trans-Atlantic troop service, where the vessels performed with distinction. Northern Pacific was destroyed by fire in 1922, but Great Northern continued to serve the government and private owners, and as the George S. Simonds, she supported the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day in 1944. The ship was sold for scrap in 1948.

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Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway steamships

BNSF releases its first sustainability report

BNSF releases first Global Reporting Initiative sustainability report
BNSF has released its first sustainability report based on the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 guidelines. This report addresses material issues important to BNSF stakeholders and its business. You can read the whole report at

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BNSF releases its first sustainability report

BNSF adds director to reinforce relationships with Native American tribes

Chris Howell is BNSF's new tribal relations director.

BNSF’s new Director of Tribal Relations, Chris Howell, will focus on strengthening and reinforcing BNSF relationships with Native American tribes. That focus will include a lot of “windshield” time as Howell travels the system making connections with the 86 tribes that BNSF “touches” every day – and more than 150 within close driving range of the BNSF rail network.

Howell, who joined BNSF in mid-November, most recently served as executive director for the Kansas Native American Affairs Office and as tribal liaison for Gov. Sam Brownback. In this new position at BNSF, Howell will help build relationships with the Indian Nations in the states where BNSF operates. He’ll soon be joined by two additional tribal liaisons, one to support the Pacific Northwest and another in the Great Plains.

“Chris and his team will help BNSF engage these communities, exploring economic development and other opportunities that can both grow our business while enhancing tribal economies, jobs and educational opportunities,” said Andrew Johnsen, assistant vice president, Community Affairs. “We have some pretty good examples of working together on projects, such as double-tracking through Abo Canyon in New Mexico. But going forward, we want to make sure BNSF has an institutional awareness of the vast community of diverse peoples across our network.”

Howell is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. During the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, he served as the Pawnee Nation’s representative to the Circle of Tribal Advisors of the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. He also served as a board member for the council, which demonstrates how a liaison role can represent different interests and build alliances.

“During the bicentennial, there were some tribes that were not interested in participating. But as we worked together and established a process to address and work through conflicts, many of the tribes got involved and used the bicentennial as an outlet to share their culture and their histories – in their own words and uncensored,” Howell explained.

More recently Howell was appointed to the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is also looking for input and feedback from tribal communities. NAC advises the FEMA administrator on all aspects of emergency management.

“In this new role at BNSF, my job is to build a level of understanding and find commonalities on both challenges and opportunities,” said Howell. “I don’t know any other company that is putting this kind of effort into building tribal relationships. There are many opportunities for BNSF and the tribes to work cooperatively, and I think we’ll soon have some tangible examples of how this benefits all of us.”

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BNSF adds director to reinforce relationships with Native American tribes

Donation helps fund historical book about Native American tribes in area that is now Glacier National Park

 BNSF Railway Foundation gives grant to Montana Historical Society to help create book about Native American tribes in Glacier Park area.

The Montana Historical Society received a $6,000 donation from the BNSF Railway Foundation to help fund a historical book about the Native American tribes whose ancestral homelands are now in Glacier National Park.
The Great Northern Railway (GN), a BNSF predecessor, built a number of hotels and chalets in the park in the 1910s to promote tourism. Rail lines in the area continue to be essential to BNSF’s Northern Transcon route.
The book, People Before the Park: Blackfeet and Kootenai in Glacier National Park, describes the culture, spiritual beliefs, history and experiences of the two tribes, in their own words. Author Sally Thompson co-wrote the book with the Kootenai Culture Committee and Pikunnu Traditional Association, whose tribal elders shared stories passed down through the generations. The book will be about 300 pages long and include more than 50 maps, historical photographs and images of artifacts.
While many books have been published on the area’s wildlife, trails, Euro-American history and the park itself, until now no texts have been dedicated to the history of the original inhabitants. The book will add to the collective knowledge, not only about the Blackfeet and Kootenai tribes, but also about Montana and the West.
Thompson was originally commissioned by the National Park Service to create a report with the help of tribal elders, but after discovering a wealth of information, the MHS suggested it be transformed into a book.
“This book has the ability to open peoples’ eyes to the Blackfeet and Kootenai lifestyles,” said Christy Eckerle, who works at MHS. “These tribes lived in a harsh northern environment and they thrived there. This book helps people understand why they chose a different way of life and that it is equal to any other.”
The Foundation’s donation will support production, marketing and a portion of the printing costs. The book is currently in review, but is scheduled to be published in early February. It can be preordered now through sellers including
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Donation helps fund historical book about Native American tribes in area that is now Glacier National Park

Future BNSF employee, high school classmates beat universities like MIT with limited resources in 2004 national robotics competition

As a senior at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Oscar Vazquez couldn’t have anticipated one class would change the course of his life. Yet two dedicated teachers, the ingenuity of four students and one robotics competition did just that.

In 2004, Vazquez and three high school classmates won a prestigious national underwater robotics competition sponsored by NASA and the Office of Naval Research. They beat high-flying college teams including the reigning champions, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The accomplishment propelled Vazquez into a technical career, and this year he joined BNSF as a locomotive foreman in Glendive, Mont.

Vazquez’s story began when his science teacher offered students the opportunity to participate in the Marine Advanced Technology Education competition in Santa Barbara, Calif. as a senior project. Vazquez and three other students phoned oceanic engineers and military contractors to get design and supplies advice. Unfortunately, the suggested materials, like glass synthetic flotation foam, were beyond the team’s $800 budget. The team instead used cheaper parts from hardware stores.

“It was ugly — just a bunch of PVC pipe put together,” he said.
Their robot, affectionately nicknamed Stinky, met the functional requirements for the competition. With cameras attached to the front of the device, Vazquez and the team could monitor the robot’s surroundings from the surface while six motors controlled its movements. 
The team learned they would not be competing in the high school division. Their teachers instead signed them up to compete in the college division. 
“When we got to the competition, we were overwhelmed,” Vazquez said. “Our robot… looked so simple compared with everyone else’s. We were a group of high school students competing against universities like MIT, which had spent thousands of dollars.”
Early in the competition, Stinky began to take on water in the electrical compartment. One of the team members ingeniously solved the problem by plugging the hole with a feminine hygiene product. The robot not only worked, but won the competition.
Vazquez has been making strides since. “I had no idea how this competition would affect my life. It helped me to be able to go to Arizona State University and get my degree. I also found out that I really liked engineering and technology.”

After college, Vazquez went to Mexico and worked in the auto industry, then came back to serve in the U.S. military. For his next career, a veteran recommended he apply for a position at BNSF, and he was hired as part of BNSF’s Experienced First Line Supervisor (EFLS) Program.

Vazquez’s story has received a fair amount of media attention. He is in a documentary called Underwater Dreams, which premiered July 18, and the competition is the subject of a feature film, Spare Parts, starring George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis, set to premiere in January 2015.

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Future BNSF employee, high school classmates beat universities like MIT with limited resources in 2004 national robotics competition