LETTER: Pipelines better than rails for moving oilRail is well suited to relatively short-haul, low volume, multi-destination transport of crude oil and refined products.
By: Glenn Cunningham , Mitchell
To the Editor:
In a recent article discussing rail transportation of crude oil, a railroad spokesman stated that railroads are reliable and faster than pipelines. This statement merits further analysis.
We’ve all seen 100-car trains moving coal across the country at 60, 70, even 80 miles per hour. This unit train concept would also be utilized for moving large volumes of crude oil from Point A to Point B.
For example, the proposed Keystone XL project would ultimately transport 700,000 barrels per day (29,400,000 U.S. gallons per day) from Canada to a terminal in the southern U.S. through a 36-inch diameter pipeline. At this volume, the flow rate in the pipeline will be about 4.6 miles per hour — pretty slow, right?
But this is certainly not the whole story. Every hour, 24 hours per day, the pipeline will deliver about 1,224,000 gallons to the terminal. Assuming a railroad tank car carries 25,000 gallons (this figure is probably a little high for crude oil), it would require 49 cars per hour, every hour, to deliver this volume. Each car would have to be unloaded in about 1 minute, 13 seconds.
On a daily basis, and again assuming 25,000 gallons per car, it would require 1,176 tank cars per day — about 12 trains per day — to accomplish these delivery requirements. This means a loaded crude oil train passing by, or through, every point on the rail route every two hours. And this is still only half the story — the empty cars have to be returned, presumably via the same route. Total rail traffic along the route: a 100-car train every hour.
Rail is well suited to relatively short-haul, low volume, multi-destination transport of crude oil and refined products. Railroads were well established in this country a hundred years before the advent of long distance oil pipelines. If rail represented the most efficient and cost effective method of moving large volumes of oil, pipelines would never have been constructed and utilized to the extent they are today.