I thought I’d have to build a time machine and set the date to 1942 or 1943 to see a Midwestern crude oil train. But recently, crude oil trains have been revived, though for a limited market. I actually saw one today rolling into BNSF Railway’s Galesburg Yard for a crew change.
On December 31, 2009, BNSF Railway originated the first 100-car unit oil train from EOG Resources’ Stanley, North Dakota terminal. They go to Sapulpa, Oklahoma for delivery to shortline Stillwater Central Railroad, which hauls them the final leg to another EOG Resources facility at Stroud. From there, the oil is trucked to a pipeline terminal 17 miles away at Cushing.
Oil typically moves from drilling operations to refineries by pipeline. So why rail in this instance? Because new pipelines are expensive to build, and existing pipelines in North Dakota’s Bakken oil field can’t handle the volume.
I actually saw two crude petroleum oil trains today; a train of empties sat in the Galesburg Yard just two tracks from the just-arrived loaded oil train. See photo below (loads at left, empties at right).
So how can you tell the tank cars on these trains haul crude petroleum oil? The haz-mat placard on each car displays the number “1267,” which denotes that commodity.
UPDATE (June 20, 2010): It has come to my attention that unit oil trains moving out of North Dakota’s Bakken oil field are not unique in the United States. Union Pacific currently operates a unit crude petroleum oil train in California from Wunpost (south of San Jose) to Delores Yard (at Carson, located just south of Los Angeles) for the nearby Shell refinery. I knew of an oil train which ran from Bakersfield to Los Angeles during the 1980s and 1990s until replaced by a pipeline. Apparently, the same equipment is used by the existing train. I changed the headline a bit for accuracy. Thanks to commenter Jason Myers for the information.
- David P. Jordan