OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Union Pacific hauled in 22% more profit during the first quarter because it charged more and delivered 4% more shipments even as it struggled to clear up congestion along its rail network.
The Omaha, Nebraska, railroad said Thursday it earned $1.63 billion, or $2.57 per share, in the quarter. That’s up from $1.34 billion, or $2 per share, a year ago.
The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.55 per share.
Union Pacific’s Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz said the railroad delivered solid financial results but failed to meet customer expectations for service. Federal regulators plan to hold a hearing next week after several groups of shippers complained about delayed deliveries that disrupted their business.
“Clearly we’re not providing broadly our customers the kind of service that they deserve, that they expect and that we have committed to provide them,” Fritz said.
For Union Pacific, the recent problems began when winter weather disrupted operations in February. Then as the railroad was struggling to recover from that, customers who saw shipments starting to slow added more railcars to help ensure they would get the deliveries they needed. But Fritz said those additional cars clogged the network further because UP didn’t have the crews it needed to handle all the traffic.
Fritz reiterated that the railroad is hiring aggressively, bringing more locomotives out of storage and putting limits on some shipments to help get freight moving smoothly again. During the quarter, Union Pacific said the average speed of its trains fell 4% to 24.1 mph.
The railroad has 500 new workers in training now, and executives said UP is on track to hire a total of 1,400 new workers this year to help it improve service and handle growing volume. But in places it has been difficult to find workers to fill all of its openings.
“They’ve been struggling trying to bring in workers. That’s not just a railroad issue,” Edward Jones analyst Jeff Windau said. “That’s an issue across multiple industries whether it’s kind of a retail industry, whether it’s airlines, everyone’s having these challenges.”
But the railroad’s quarterly revenue grew 17% to $5.86 billion as it increased the rates it charged to deliver an assortment of raw materials, crops and finished products. That also surpassed the $5.81 billion that five analysts surveyed by Zacks predicted.
Union Pacific maintained its prediction that volume will grow faster this year than industrial production.
Union Pacific is one of the nation’s largest railroads with a network of 32,400 miles (52,000 kilometers) of track in 23 Western states.
Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on UNP at https://www.zacks.com/ap/UNP