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The merger of the operating companies was held up by issues with unions; The Union Pacific-Southern Pacific merger further enlarged the combined BNSF network.

Unlike BN and ATSF, UP and SP had significant overlap, where the end of competition between the two risked creating a monopoly for freight carriage in much of the West.

The Illinois Central Railroad and Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS), two of the five "small" Class Is, announced on July 19 that the former would buy the latter, On February 7, 1995, BN and ATSF heads Gerald Grinstein and Robert D.

Krebs both announced shareholders had approved the plan, which would save overhead costs and combine BN's coal and ATSF's intermodal strengths.

UP and BNSF announced in late September 1995 that, in exchange for BNSF not opposing the merger, it would obtain ownership of 335 miles (539 km) of line and about 3,500 miles (5,600 km) of trackage rights to reach these "two-to-one" shippers.

Significant additions included rights over SP's Central Corridor from Denver via the Moffat Tunnel and Salt Lake City, and over Donner Pass, to the San Francisco Bay Area, with an alternate route through the Feather River Canyon along UP.

It also hauls bulk cargo, including enough coal to generate around ten per cent of the electricity produced in the United States.

The creation of BNSF started with the formation of a holding company on September 22, 1995.

Louis, paralleling the Houston-Memphis SP line, and allowing BNSF to participate in the UP's plan for directional running, in which each line would serve through trains in only one direction.

On November 3, 2009, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway announced it would acquire the remaining 77.4 percent of BNSF it did not already own for 0 per share in cash and stock — a deal valued at billion.

The company is investing an estimated billion in BNSF and acquiring billion in debt.

BNSF's history dates back to 1849, when the Aurora Branch Railroad in Illinois and the Pacific Railroad of Missouri were formed. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) was chartered in 1859.

The Aurora Branch eventually grew into the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, (CB&Q), a major component of successor Burlington Northern. It built one of the first transcontinental railroads in North America, linking Chicago and Southern California; major branches led to Texas, Denver, and San Francisco.

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