CASPER — A national railroad freight company announced Thursday it will close two facilities in Wyoming and lay off 130 workers in response to tough market conditions for coal.
BNSF Railway’s Donkey Creek maintenance facility near Rozet will close on June 5. The company’s maintenance facility in Guernsey will close soon after on July 7.
The closures were made “in response to changing business conditions and projected lower demand for rail cars to ship commodities,” according to a company spokeswoman Maia LaSalle.
“Similar to the size of our train, yard and engine workforce, our mechanical teams must match the demand for traffic moved by our railroad,” LaSalle said in a statement. “With volumes lower than anticipated due to several factors, including changes in the coal and energy sector, the number of rail cars and locomotives moving on our network and thus repairs needed, have decreased.”
Some employees will be offered the option to transfer to open positions at other facilities around the country, though operations in six other states will also be affected by the mass closures. BNSF will eliminate 19 salaried and 344 craft positions nationwide.
Wyoming’s coal country has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government-initiated steps to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus have led to a swift decline in commercial electricity use, with electricity consumption forecasts falling by 4.7 percent this year.
On top of that, the nation had an unseasonably warm winter and some of the coal being mined now is building up in stockpiles, going unused.
Even before the pandemic, the coal industry was suffering from declining demand, retiring power plants and competition from cheaper energy sources such as natural gas.
The Energy Information Administration, the country’s leading energy data agency, predicts more losses will arrive on coal companies’ doorsteps in the coming months. It forecasts the country will produce 22 percent less coal in 2020 compared to last year.
Last month, the largest round of coal mine layoffs in years swept through the Powder River Basin, the state’s epicenter of coal production, with over 300 miners losing their jobs.
Over 29,000 fellow Wyoming workers filed for unemployment benefits in April. Alternate job openings remain few and far between as many state-mandated business closures have brought the economy to a near-standstill. However, those restriction have begun to ease in the past week.