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BNSF poised to grow in Galesburg, Ill.

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BNSF officials were cautiously optimistic about the future at a special forum on the railroad industry at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill., The Register-Mail reported. Plans to build a diesel repair shop, a third main track in the BNSF's classification yard in Galesburg and storage tracks that allow freight trains that are being made up to be moved aside to allow other traffic through, could lead to the creation of more jobs once the economy rebounds, the officials said.

BNSF’s Assistant Vice
President Paul Nowicki and Eric Pitcher, BNSF’s regional economic development
manager, spoke at a railroad forum hosted by the Galesburg Regional Economic
Development Association.

The company has furloughed
135 employees, the result of a reduction in rail traffic, although that number
is down from 150, according to BNSF Terminal Superintendent Rick Danielson, who
also spoke. "We are in a prime spot here to be able to grow,"
Danielson said. "We just need the economy to get back up and

The state has applied for
$52 million in stimulus funding to build a third main track and storage track,
two facilities that will improve efficiency and allow for more traffic to pass
through Galesburg.

Dick Smith, director of
planning and progress with the Illinois Department of Transportation, said that
if the stimulus application was not successful, the state would find other
sources to fund the project. "Either way you are going to see that
happen," he said.

The plan to build a diesel
repair shop here has been put on hold, but should resume if the economy returns
to health, Danielson said. Nowicki said BNSF’s business was down 16 percent
this year compared to 2008, after a steep decline in October of last year as the
economy tanked. However, the company has weathered the storm better than its
competitors. Union Pacific’s business is down an estimated 20 percent. Other
rail companies have a greater exposure to the auto industry, Nowicki said. Coal
and agriculture products make up the bulk of BNSF’s business. Nowicki said
there are tentative indications that the economy is beginning to recover.

Pitcher pointed to the
transport of agricultural products as a business model that could create jobs
in Galesburg. "Shipping bulk agricultural material from this area seems to
be a big opportunity," he said.

BNSF carries agricultural
produce to the Pacific Northwest for shipment to Asia from this region and
Pitcher predicted continued growth in that market as a new middle class in countries
like China increases consumption. "We think this is going to be a good
story going forward for Galesburg," Pitcher said.

He also said growth in the
number of wind farms in this area could be exploited locally by BNSF to create
jobs. "That’s one of the potential new business areas for Galesburg,"
Pitcher said. Wind turbine parts are often transported by rail and Pitcher said
that if a 40- to 60-acre storage area could be developed next to a rail line a
hub for the distribution of the parts could be established. Pitcher said he had
been working with GREDA’s Greg Mangieri and third parties to see if a
"transloading area" could be developed here.

Moffitt said both the $52
million to reduce rail congestion here and the $33.5 million awarded to the city
to build grade-separations in Galesburg were bright spots on the horizon for
BNSF and the local economy.

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