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BNSF Railway Co. said Thursday it is cutting back hiring and instituting furloughs because of declining freight demand.

"Our workforce needs are driven by our customers’ freight transportation needs. Customers’ volumes in the near term have come down somewhat from their prior estimates; as a result, we are having to adjust our workforce demand numbers down to match volume and the work required to move that volume," the company said in an emailed statement.

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Roxanne Butler said the company would be reducing its hiring plans for the next several months and temporarily furloughing a number of employees.

Butler said she had no specific information to give on the number of furloughs nor where they will be occurring.

BNSF has about 5,000 employees in Nebraska, including nearly 2,000 in Lincoln.

She said the company hopes to call back furloughed employees as soon as business picks back up.

Butler did not specify customers or freight products for which demand was falling.

The Association of American Railroads reported earlier this month that oil train shipments fell 7 percent in March compared with a year earlier due to a large drop in the price of oil and concerns over the safety of oil tank cars. 

However, Butler pointed out that crude oil shipments account for only 4 percent of BNSF Railway's total freight volume.

Though the company has not reported results for the first quarter yet, data from the Association of American Railroads showed its total carloads were up 0.8 percent.

John Miller, vice president for agriculture products at BNSF Railway, told Bloomberg News earlier this month that the company had made up all of the market share for carrying grain, fertilizer and other farm-related goods that it lost in the first quarter of 2014.

Union Pacific earlier this month reported its total car loads for the first quarter fell 2.3 percent compared with a year earlier, mostly due to drops in grain and coal. UP, based in Omaha, also announced plans to furlough 500 workers and cut previously announced hiring by 400 positions.

BNSF is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, and its annual meeting, led by Warren Buffett, is this weekend.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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