Growth in rail transportation of oil

National Geographic has an interesting story about the rapid growth of shipping oil by rail. The recent train crash in Quebec has focused new aattetion on this development.

“The growth in train transport of oil has been staggering. Shipments of Bakken shale oil were expected to exceed 800,000 barrels per day by the end of this year, up tenfold just since August 2011, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. State Department. Across the United States, rail carloads of crude, which totaled just 9,500 in 2008, were up to 97,000 in just the first quarter of this year—on track for a 40-fold increase in just five years.  Canada’s railroads, which carried just 500 carloads of crude in 2009, will carry 130,000 to 140,000 carloads this year, the Railway Association of Canada says….”

“An important factor keeping the cost of train transport down for oil producers has been the practice of sending the crude in trains made entirely of tanker cars of oil, like the train that crashed in Lac-Mégantic. Shipping in these ‘unit trains,’ long lines of black tankers that look like a moving above-ground pipeline, is cheaper than the traditional ‘manifest train’ that is a mix of boxcars, flatbeds, grain hoppers, and coal cars (an operator needs a ‘manifest,’ or list, to keep track of what’s aboard.)  New onloading and offloading stations are being built especially for all-oil trains.”