Crude Oil on the Railroad

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Changes in the railroad industry have caused many to rethink the protocol associated with shipping crude oil across railways in North America. In fact, BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Corporation has taken it upon themselves to impose additional safety measures for crude oil shipments in both the US and Canada.

 

BNSF Train pulling cars

The Oil Industry and The Railroad

It’s clear to most of us how crucial the railroad is to many industries, and the oil and gas sector is no exception. In fact, the railroad works very closely with the nation’s major drillers, refineries, and distributors. The railroad hauled as much as 493,126 cars of crude oil last year alone. Thankfully, with as much oil as the railroad hauls each year, there are hardly ever any accidents. The railroad industry is very cautious about transporting hazardous materials.

Railroad Regulations

However, a handful of recent derailments have caused the industry to rethink the approach they take to shipping crude oil. The railroad has already implemented an increase in track inspections, up more than twice as much as regulations require. BNSF alone has pledged to incorporate safety measures beyond the industry standard and looks to be setting a new precedence for all others. One way BNSF has increased their safety expectations is through the removal of potential problems earlier than stipulations mandate. For example, all railroad companies use a system of railway detectors to pinpoint wheels and axles that may potentially fail soon. While there are certain stipulations regarding how soon worn axles and wheels must be replaced, BNSF has pledged to replace these parts sooner than required for additional safety.

Another regulation that BNSF has imposed upon itself is the slowing of freight cars through populated areas. The railroad in general slows freight cars carrying crude oil to 40 mph through populated regions, but BNSF has decided to slow their cars even more. The new BNSF standard is 35 mph through areas populated by more than 100,000 people. In addition to this, BNSF has also increased railway inspections near water sources. While the railroad as a whole is continually committed to safety, BNSF’s recent moves look to set an example of an even higher level of safety protocols.

A major factor to the new regulations is the inclusion of a new or enhanced kind of braking system. The new stipulation from the feds is to include a new, electronically controlled, pneumatic braking system on all cars carrying crude oil.  These new braking systems are said to be capable of slowing a train quicker and safer than the current systems in place of railcars. These new braking systems will be required for trains carrying 100 or more tankers filled with petroleum product.

As sensible as this all seems, there have been many to voice their concerns against the new rule.  The American Railroad Association has come out to say that this will be far more costly than the feds have considered, and could result in negative operational impacts on a network that fuels so much of the nation’s economy. In addition to the concerns of the American Railroad Association, the American Petroleum Institute feels that the window on implementing the new regulation will make it unrealistically difficult to get rid of the old tankers by 2020, the proposed date to phase out all old braking systems.

On the other hand, a certain unnamed advocacy group has been reported to have expressed concerns that while it is a good step to start with the brakes, the new regulation does nothing to help with derailments.  Ultimately, this group feels the powers in charge of the new regulations need to do more to ensure additional safety.

While even more changes await the railroad industry, Powerblanket is ready to help keep trains running. Railcar heating, tank warmers, snow melting mats are just a few of the ways Powerblanket is an integral part of America’s rolling freight system.