BNSF employee steps up to build relationships with Native American nations

The BNSF network spans much of the western United States, and a BNSF line or a shared track passes within one mile of 86 different Native American nations. In fact, there are more than 300 Native American nations located in states where BNSF operates.


BNSF’s close ties with Native American nations throughout the United States provide a unique opportunity to engage American Indian communities and work cooperatively toward shared development goals.


While BNSF has a long history of working with Native American nations, Cherie Gordon, manager, Economic Development, saw additional opportunities and became a driving force behind expanding BNSF’s efforts. In 2013, Gordon helped form a cross-departmental committee to focus on relationships with Native American nations, including defining the mission, vision, strategy and objectives.


“Cherie has done great work with the American Indian relationship-building initiative. She took ownership and ensured its success,” said Skip Kalb, director, Economic Development.


In the almost two years since the initiative began, Gordon and steering committee members identified key American Indian nations, made contacts with tribal leaders and attended meetings and conferences. Moreover, the committee built a solid foundation for sustainable development opportunities, while enhancing tribal economies, jobs and education.


Gordon received an Achievement Award on Feb. 13 for her leadership throughout the project, but she also noted the important contributions of team members in the project’s success.


Gordon has been a member of the Council of Native Americans, a BNSF affinity group, for more than 10 years, and was elected this year to serve as chairman. Gordon is known among her colleagues as being passionate about issues related to Native American nations. She has trace heritage from the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes and additional ties through her son, Samuel, who is a direct descendant from the Choctaw nation.


About the photo: Gordon accepts her Achievement Award from Vann Cunningham, assistant vice president, Economic Development, on Feb. 13.

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BNSF employee steps up to build relationships with Native American nations

BNSF helps sponsor battle of the bands for young musicians in Pacific Northwest

BNSF puts an emphasis on supporting communities throughout its network; and recently, the BNSF Railway Foundation helped promote the talents of young people at a music event in Seattle.


Young artists representing a range of styles, from hip-hop to indie, demonstrated their musical talents at the 14th annual Sound Off!, a battle of the bands event for Pacific Northwest musicians 21 years old and younger. The BNSF Foundation provided a $25,000 grant that helped fund the month-long music event, hosted by leading-edge popular culture museum EMP.


“The event is such an amazing thing to see happening,” said Cody Sargenti, one of the band members of Champagne Babylon. “We are so happy that we were able to place in an event that supports local music for a younger music scene.”


Each year, musical groups and solo artists from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia are invited to apply. A panel of music industry professionals reviewed all applicants, who submitted four audio tracks of original music, and selected 12 bands to perform live at EMP. The selected musicians had the opportunity to showcase original music and make connections within a larger artistic community. Bands were scored on song composition and arrangement, creativity and originality as well as technical ability and musicianship.


“You can’t mention the Pacific Northwest without talking about music. From Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana to Macklemore, music has defined the PNW,” said Courtney Wallace, regional director, Public Affairs, for BNSF. “It was a natural fit for us to be a part of Sound Off!, a program that is helping to nurture the next generation of musicians. We’re excited that we could be a small part of helping these amazing young people achieve their dreams.”

One Above Below None, a hip-hop group from Seattle, was crowned the 2015 Sound Off! Champion on March 7. Naked Giants were runners-up. Emma Lee Toyoda took third place and won the Audience Favorite Award, and Bleachbear took fourth place.


“This experience has helped us develop so much as musicians and opened so many doors that would've otherwise remained shut,” said Toyoda.


The winners will have the opportunity to perform at major music festivals and venues in the Pacific Northwest region.


More about the competition at the EMP Museum website.


Great photos from the finals at the EMP Museum's Flickr Page.


About the photos: Bleachbear, top, placed fourth. One Above Below None, bottom, won first place at Sound Off! Finals. Photos courtesy of EMP staff. 

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BNSF helps sponsor battle of the bands for young musicians in Pacific Northwest

Mary Colter, notable architect of Grand Canyon landmarks, also designed Harvey House hotels

"Grand Canyon Historic Mary Colter Portrait c. 1892”, courtesy of NPS, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mary Colter was an architect who designed a number of important buildings for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) as well as iconic landmark structures in the Grand Canyon.


Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1869. She spent time in Texas and Colorado during her early years before moving to St. Paul, Minn. After high school, she attended the California School of Design in San Francisco and apprenticed in a local architect’s office. After graduation, she moved back to St. Paul, where she taught art at Mechanic Arts High School for 15 years.


She visited San Francisco in 1901 to spend time with a friend who worked at a gift shop owned by Fred Harvey. The Fred Harvey Company developed hotels, restaurants and other facilities that served ATSF’s many passengers.


 "Grand Canyon Historic Mary Colter Portrait c. 1892”, courtesy of NPS, licensed under CC BY 2.0 

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Mary Colter, notable architect of Grand Canyon landmarks, also designed Harvey House hotels

Service making significant progress

BNSF employees work during a major winter storm in Ft. Madison, Iowa in February 2015.


BNSF employees work through a major winter storm in Fort Madison, Iowa in early February. Despite challenging winter conditions, thanks to the efforts of its employees and its significant capital investments around its network, BNSF’s service has improved since the extreme winter of 2013-2014. Train velocity was up 23 percent last week from the same week in 2014, and the number of trains waiting for a locomotive to be available has decreased by 93 percent in the same time period.
Photo courtesy of Jeffery Metcalf.
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Service making significant progress

ATSF helped reporter Nellie Bly break record for around-the-world trip

After reading Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days in 1889, Elizabeth Cochrane, a female reporter for the New York World who went by the pen name Nellie Bly, claimed she could travel around the world in 75 days.


Nellie BlyNellie Bly began her journey from Jersey City, N.J., on November 14, 1889, and landed in San Francisco on January 21, 1890. She was ahead of the schedule set by Verne’s fictional protagonist Phileas Fogg, but just even with the timeline promised to her editor. Not one to settle for good enough, Bly wanted to beat her editor’s deadline and needed to get to Chicago as quickly as possible in order to do so.


The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Santa Fe) Railway provided a special train, the Miss Nellie Bly Special, from San Francisco to Chicago. To ensure a speedy journey, the train had only one sleeping car and one baggage car. Orders were given that the train had right of way over all other traffic and speed limits were suspended. 


Crews along the way became interested in the race and changed engines at record speeds. The crew at Needles, Calif., changed engines in one minute and the crew at La Junta, Colo., claimed a record engine-change time of 42 seconds.


Two of the many locomotives used on the trip were Santa Fe 93 and Santa Fe 469. Both were 4-4-0 locomotives, known as “American” types because of their widespread use in North America. Santa Fe 93, built by Manchester Locomotive Works in the 1870s, replaced the previous engine at Williams, Ariz. After several more locomotive changes, Santa Fe 469, built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1872, was used from Emporia, Kan. to Kansas City, Mo.


Nellie Bly arrived at Dearborn Station in Chicago on January 24, 1890. The run clocked in at 69 hours for the 2,577 miles from San Francisco to Chicago for an average speed of 37-1/3 miles an hour. The next day, Nellie Bly arrived back at Jersey City, just over 72 days after her departure.


In February 1890, Santa Fe named one of its dining cars “Nellie Bly” after the female reporter who inspired the railroad to set speed records while helping her on her race around the world.


Santa Fe would later become famous for similar races against time, such as the 1905 run of the Scott Special, which completed its run from Los Angeles to Chicago in 44 hours and 54 minutes.

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ATSF helped reporter Nellie Bly break record for around-the-world trip

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