COT/Certificate of Transportation FAQs

Purpose Of The Program

What is the Certificate of Transportation (COT) program?

BNSF’s COT program allows BNSF Agricultural Products customers to bid for covered hopper cars according to a weekly schedule, subject to availability. All COTs provide customers with a car placement date guarantee and Monthly COTs also provide a rate-lock option. Car reservations are awarded to the highest bidders and require a nominal pre-payment.

What are the benefits of the program?

Through a time specific car guarantee, shippers and receivers are better able to plan their logistics and reduce demurrage, interest and late shipment penalties. BNSF can also improve its efficiency through advance planning for equipment utilization.

Are COTs just for large shippers?

No, single car COTs enable BNSF shippers of any size to utilize this unique grain marketing opportunity.

Does the COT limit my options as a shipper?

The COT program is the most frequently used way for BNSF Agricultural Products shippers to reserve cars in advance. Shippers also have access to BNSF’s Lottery program.

The "Offering Terms and Conditions" has built in flexibility for the COT holder. COTs may be bought or sold in a secondary market (BNSF does not manage or participate in this secondary market). Once the car has been placed, normal car service rules will apply.


Rates and Payment

Where does BNSF publish tariff information on COTs?

From select the Customers tab /What-Can-I Ship/Grains and Feed. In the Car Programs section customers can reference COT Tariff BNSF- 4090 for COT application rules and COT Tariff BNSF- 4091 for COTs applicable to the shipping period.

Does a customer need to have credit established with BNSF to participate in the COT program?

Yes. A customer is required to have established credit with BNSF in order to purchase a COT or to use a COT. Credit applications can be obtained from the Become a Customer page on

How much does BNSF require as an advance prepayment and why?

BNSF requires a prepayment of $200 per car plus premium. Prepayment for yearlong units and singles is $40 per car-month plus premium (although the customer will be charged an additional $160 per car-month make-whole fee—so that total COT obligation is $200 per car-month—for any defaulted COT within a yearlong COT). A premium is an additional amount bidders can place on top of the prepayment amount to increase their chances of winning a COT bid. BNSF uses COTs for power and car supply planning and the prepayment serves as a performance bond, indicating a commitment to move those cars. Prepayment, less premium, is then deducted from the freight bill for COTs cars shipped.

Does the COT program raise tariff rates?

COT bids are independent of tariff rates. The COT pre-pay is offset against the customer's freight bill; however, any premium bid over and above the pre-pay amount is not offset against the freight bill.

What is the Monthly COT "rate lock"?

Monthly COTs allow the bidder to select the effective rate date at the time of COT bid. The effective rate date always applies to the timeframe when the car will be shipped; however, the bidder can choose whether the tariff rate to be applied to the shipment would be (i) the rate covering the shipping timeframe that is currently published and effective (Acceptance Date), or (ii) the rate that is in force on the first day of the Shipping Period. When Acceptance Date is chosen and a tariff is published and effective for the shipping period, the “rate lock” provides certainty regarding the tariff rate (excluding fuel surcharge) that will be applied to that shipment.

Can COTs apply to rate contracts?

Yes. COTs can be used on traffic shipped under rate contracts if the rate contract is in effect on the same day as the COT effective rate date and on the date the shipment is waybilled.

Can COTs apply to joint line through rate shipments?

Yes. COTs can be applied to joint line through rate shipments if the through rate is in effect on the COT effective rate date and on the date the shipment is waybilled.

Can several COTs be combined to utilize multiple car rates on large volume shipments?

Yes. COT single cars and COT unit trains may be combined to create a larger volume shipment. Up to 15 single COT orders can be combined into one shipment. Up to two units can be combined to make a 48-car order, or four units can be combined to make a 110-car Destination Efficiency Train (DET: see Tariff BNSF-4022 Item 13504).

How are COTs billed?

COTs are waybilled the same as any other cars, with the exception that the COT number or permit number must appear on the Bill of Lading. COT car billing must be in accordance with the terms of the COT, or billing will be refused. See BNSF Price Book 4022, Book 1, Section B, Item 12291 for more information.

How is COT demurrage paid?

COT cars are treated the same as non-COT cars for demurrage purposes at both origin and destination. For general information, see Tariff BNSF 6004-series.

How are commercial disputes regarding the COT program resolved?

Customers should first talk with the BNSF Grain Operations team regarding the issue. In the event the dispute cannot be resolved at that level, the COT program provides for resolution of disputes through binding arbitration under the arbitration rules of the National Grain & Feed Association, or the parties to the dispute may designate an alternative arbitration forum.


Service Offerings

What service offerings are available in the COT program?

Service Offering Abbreviation Number of Cars Number of Months
Monthly Grain Unit NGU 24 1
Yearlong Grain Unit YGU 24 12
Monthly Grain Singles GS 1 1
Yearlong Grain Singles YGS 1 12

The offerings are described in COT Tariff BNSF-4090.

How are cars allocated between the COT and non-COT programs? How are cars allocated between Units and Singles?

The allocation between COT and non-COT cars, and between Singles and Units, is based on historical shipping patterns and current market conditions with the underlying objectives of: 1) meeting customers’ needs, and 2) keeping BNSF equipment in active service.

Where is the daily offering information obtained?

Current certificate offers will be made available at on the Grains and Feed page under Car Programs.

How are the current offering terms obtained?

BNSF has published COT Offering Terms and Conditions at on the Grains and Feed page under “Car Programs”, in COT Tarriff BNSF-4090, Item 10200.

Do other railroads participate in BNSF’s COTs program?

Additional railroads that are supplied BNSF equipment and have single factor rates published in BNSF tariffs fully participate in the program. Car orders will be accepted for loading on the connecting carriers listed in COT Tariff BNSF-4090 Item 10450


Placing a bid

How do I access the online COTs bidding?

All bids are placed online through the secure If you do not have a login, you will need to register. During the registration process, request access to the Railcar Equipment Request (RER) tool. For help with registration, please contact . If you currently have a login, but do not have access to RER, please request access by emailing your name, company and user ID to .

How does the bid process work?

The offering schedule is as follows:

Monday – Shuttles
Tuesday – Monthly Units, Shuttles
Wednesday – Yearlong Units, Shuttles
Thursday – Monthly Singles, Yearlong Singles, Shuttles
Friday – Shuttles

1. After the daily offer is made, BNSF will accept bids on offers tendered that day. Online bids will be accepted from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., CST.

2. A sample offer would appear as follows:

BNSF RAILWAY COT Grain Singles OFFER 06/10

BNSF offers COTS under provisions of Tariff ICC BNSF-4091-series as amended effective 06/10/10 for all grains in the Singles Corridor. Bidder must name FP, MP, or LP at time of bid. Note number of units remaining for each period.

______ ___ ________ __________   _________________________________
GS1819 Jun 500 CARS 200 Per Car  0   FP, 0   MP, 500 LP (500  CARS)
GS1915 Jul 200 CARS 200 Per Car 212 FP, 257 MP, 284 LP (753 CARS)
GS2014 Aug 195 CARS 200 Per Car 89 FP, 54 MP, 52 LP (195 CARS)
GS2114 Sep 83 CARS 200 Per Car 31 FP, 21 MP, 31 LP (83 CARS)
GS2208 Oct 200 CARS 200 Per Car 323 FP, 263 MP, 271 LP (857 CARS)
GS2308 Nov 200 CARS 200 Per Car 306 FP, 334 MP, 362 LP (1002 CARS) GS2408 Dec 200 CARS 200 Per Car 406 FP, 399 MP, 407 LP (1212 CARS)
Acceptances or higher whole dollar bids accepted until 3:00PM CT at
Certificate of Transportation.

3. Customers bid by selecting the offering they’d like to bid on, then inputting the bid amount, the shipping period when cars are needed, the number of cars needed and the effective rate date. Shipping periods provide improved precision for car ordering and are defined as:

First Period (FP): 1st - 10th day of month
– FP COTs can be ordered for placement between the 1st and the 10th day of the month.

Middle Period (MP): 11th - 20th day of month
– MP COTs can be ordered for placement between the 11th and the 20th day of the month.

Last Period (LP): 21st - last day of month
– LP COTs can be ordered for placement between the 21st day and the end of the month.

4. At the close of the bidding period, all bids will be evaluated. Bids will be ranked in descending order by bid amount and all those at or above the minimum acceptable bid will be accepted unless the offer is over-subscribed or a situation arises where bids cannot be differentiated. An example would be: BNSF offers COTs for six (6) Monthly Singles for FP Feb shipment period at a minimum acceptable bid of $200. At the end of the bidding period BNSF has received the following FP Feb bids in descending order by bid amount (per certificate).

Bid 1 $230
Bid 2 $230
Bid 3 $220
Bid 4 $220
Bid 5 $210
Bid 6 $200
Bid 7 $200
Bid 8 $180

Bid 8 would be rejected because it was below the minimum acceptable bid of $200. Bids 1 through 5 would be accepted because they are at or over the minimum acceptable bid and clearly differentiated by bid amount. Bid 6 and 7 are the same. Both are above the minimum acceptable but would over-subscribe the offer if both were accepted. This results in a tie for the sixth and final unit offered. Since they cannot be differentiated, and to maintain the equitable and fair treatment of all bidders, neither Bid 6 nor 7 would be accepted and a total of only five bids would be accepted for the offer. The remaining unit would be reoffered in subsequent tenders. However, if Bid 6 and 7 were submitted by the same bidder, the sixth and final unit would be awarded.

5. Successful bidders will be notified by email on the same day as the offer and bidding process takes place. Successful bidders will be given the Certificate numbers and the prepay amounts for all COTs purchased.

6. Successful bidders must wire the prepayment of funds by the close of business on the first business day following the tender day.


Wire/ACH pre-payments to:
PNC, Pittsburg, PA
Acct #1019790617
ABA #043000096

Note: It is essential that the COT number and your company name be included in the wire/ACH information. The prepayment will be 100% of the bid amount of the COT. Checks are not accepted.

7. Results of the tender will be announced by BNSF on the same tender day at on the Grains and Feed page under Car Programs. The results will show the number and amounts of all successful COT bids, as well as the total number of bids and the bid ranges that were received during the tender. BNSF will not publish the bidders’ names so that their position in the market is not exposed or compromised.

When will BNSF send the COT Certificate?

Customers will not receive an actual certificate, but will receive the COT Winner Notification Report statement by email with the COT numbers and amount to wire/ACH.


Modifying a Bid

Can I change my COTs bid once it’s been placed?

Customers can modify or delete bids made in the COTs application at any time up until the bid closes that day. Customers can also view their bid history in the application.

Will BNSF buy back certificates if the shipper doesn't need the transportation?

No. The Certificate of Transportation program represents a commitment for transportation on the part of both parties. Since each COT is a negotiable instrument, shippers may sell any unneeded certificates to other interested parties.

How are COTs bought or sold in the secondary market?

The COTs are fully negotiable and may be assigned without BNSF concurrence. COTs may be traded through the same channels that grain is marketed, either directly with other grain companies or through brokers. BNSF does not "make a market" or participate in the secondary market.

Any change of ownership must be registered with BNSF. The change of ownership form is located inside the secure under Certificate of Transportation.


Placing a Car Order

When can COT car orders be placed?

COT car orders may be placed as early as 30 calendar days before the start of the shipping period for which the COT was purchased. If a car placement guarantee is desired, the car order must be made at least 10 days prior to the start of its shipping period. Car orders placed 9 days to 1 day prior to the start of its shipping period will be honored, but will not receive a car placement guarantee. In the event loading orders are not placed the day prior to the start of the shipping period, the COT will be declared in default and all obligations respecting service, equipment and the prepayment amount will be forfeited at the option of BNSF.

Why is advance car ordering required?

Since the COT provides a guaranteed car supply, BNSF requires time for operational planning and car placement. The advance car order helps BNSF place cars on or as close to the “want date" as possible.

How are COT car orders placed?

All COT car orders will be placed in the secure

  • Log in to
  • Select Railcar Equipment Request (RER)
  • Select loading location (city and state)
  • Select elevator name
  • Input preferred placement date
  • Input number of cars desired at each loading location

All charges and COT credits will be applied to the party that places the car order.

How many cars can be ordered for a unit?

COT unit size is sold in increments of 24 cars. However, 24, 25, 26 or 27 cars may be ordered with one COT unit. If two COT units (48 cars) are ordered together, no additional cars may be ordered.

Will straggler cars be placed to fill these units if necessary?

Straggler cars to fill orders to the customer’s requested order quantity may be placed at BNSF’s discretion; however, BNSF will not be obligated to provide straggler cars so long as at least 22 cars have been placed against a customer’s COT unit order.


Receiving Your Cars

When will the cars be placed?

The cars will be placed within 15 days of the want date. You must indicate your preferred placement date at the time of COT ordering, and BNSF Grain Operations will assign a want date to the order. The want date will be assigned within the COTs shipping period, as close to your preferred placement date as operating conditions allow.

What is the car placement guarantee?

Failure of BNSF to furnish the guaranteed car 15 days from want date shall result in the payment to the holder of the COT a maximum of $200 per car for each deficit car beginning at 00:01 a.m. on the 16th day. BNSF will remain obligated to fulfill that car order.

What is the procedure for filing a claim for late cars?

When the cars are placed, a COT Guarantee Claim Form  should be filled out and sent to BNSF within 60 days of placement date or claim will be declined.

What is the latest date car orders can be placed without losing the car placement guarantee?

The car order must be made at least 10 days prior to the start of a shipping period to meet the guarantee requirements.

Under what circumstances would a COT be considered in default?

In the event loading orders are not placed the day prior to the start of the shipping period, the COT will be declared in default and all obligations respecting service, equipment and the prepayment amount will be forfeited at the option of BNSF.

Can you change the origin on a car order?

Subject to BNSF approval, the origin can be changed as long as the original car order has not been placed or the cars designated for the COTs are not en route to the origin. A charge will be assessed of $30 per car as provided in Item 12163, BNSF-4022-series. To change an origin on a car order, please log in to and select Railcar Equipment Request. Select the origin station for the original order, then select your elevator. In the Single or Unit Summary, select Modify under Actions on the far right. Enter your new origin and any comments you wish to add.

What happens if there are bad order cars?

Once spotted, COT cars are treated the same as non-COT cars. For more information about bad order cars, see COT Tariff BNSF-4090, Item 10500.

What is the proper procedure if a bad order car is placed to fill a COT car order?

Notification must be given to BNSF’s Grain Operations, including reference that the car rejected was placed against a COT. If the replacement car is not received eight days after the original late placement deadline, the replacement car will go into penalty and the order will remain in place. If proper notification is not given, the late placement penalty will become null and void and the replacement car will be placed at a later date.

Contact Information

Who do I call for assistance?

  • General COT Issues - 817-867-6266
  • eBizHelp - 888-428-2673, option 4, 1
  • Billing – 888-428-2673, option 3
  • Grain Desk – 800-234-9396


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