Rail Transportation Today
Today, the U.S. freight system is among the most efficient and cost-effective in the world. Transporting the nation's growing freight load requires enough track to circle the Earth nearly six times. Railroad companies are increasing their investments in track infrastructure to prevent the loss of goods and further improve the safety of transportation by rail. Over the years, the U.S. railroad system has evolved into a broad network, delivering many vital goods throughout the country. The U.S.' extensive rail network moves significant quantities of energy products across the country such as coal, ethanol, wind turbine components and crude oil. Rail also transports key petroleum products such as propane, asphalt, lubricants and other necessities people rely on every day. Along with energy products, railroads haul a wide variety of goods such as agricultural and food products, raw materials such as chemicals and finished products including electronics, auto parts and furniture. These widespread products are now more accessible to consumers because of the efficient and effective transport by rail.
Technological advancements have increased crude production from shale deposits and allowed the U.S. to become the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer. As domestic production in shale plays has grown, producers have relied on rail to move crude oil to refineries on the East and West Coasts. With this direct source of domestic production, imports from foreign countries into East Coast refineries have declined. Domestic deliveries from shale plays to West Coast refineries have also offset declining production in California and Alaska.
The Bakken formation, which lies underneath North Dakota, Montana and Canada, has played a large role in the rise of crude oil transported by rail. Because of its geographic location and lack of energy infrastructure, operators have been transporting crude oil from production areas to refineries by rail. Crude oil production from the Bakken has risen to over 1,200,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2015, up from about 200,000 b/d in 2007. Due to the increased production, railroads transported over 265,000,000 barrels of Bakken crude in 2014, a sixteen fold increase since 2009. Railroads move more than half of this crude oil to the East Coast. Bakken crude transported by rail has increased the East Coast's access to energy resources and brought down the cost of home heating oil, gasoline and petroleum products.
Growing energy production depends on an expanding energy infrastructure network, including railroads, pipelines, trucking, and marine transportation. In North America, railroads are separated by class depending on their operating revenue. Since 2008, transportation of crude oil by the six Class I railroads, considered the largest freight rails in North America, has grown significantly from 9,500 originated carloads in 2008 to 233,698 in 2012 and almost 500,000 in 2014. In 2014, railroads transported approximately 8 percent of U.S. oil production.
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