CN Rail has been moving oil products by trail since 2010, when the company began to test the transportation of various types of product to markets in Canada and the U.S.
CN Rail communications director Mark Hallman told the Sentinel by e-mail that in 2011, CN moved approximately 5,000 carloads of crude oil, a number which jumped to 30,000 carloads in 2012.
The rail company believes it can double that business in 2013.
A carload’s worth of oil varies depending on the specific product being moved, he said. A carload can have 550 or so barrels-worth of heavy oil, or 650 barrels-worth fit of light crude oil.
Hallman said CN’s rail line gives them access to areas that aren’t served by pipelines. Those areas include places in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Eastern and Western Canada. However he notes that crude oil is not being sent to ports on Canada’s west coast because there is currently no infrastructure to unload the oil from cars to vessels.
The specific places CN delivers to is kept private due to commercial reasons.
The company also strives to minimize incidents relating to the transportation of oil.
“CN takes significant measures to prevent environmental incidents from occurring during rail operations. However, when incidents do occur, the company has a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan and procedures in place to deal diligently with the situation.”
He noted that CN had the lowest Transportation Safety Boat of Canada Main-Track Accident Ratio in its history, and none of the accidents caused a leak of dangerous materials.
Hallman provided a list of five benefits to using rail to ship oil — a business, which he noted, complements pipelines and is not a replacement for them. One benefit was that a rail line means a shipper is not tied to a specific market. As well, rail allows the volumes to increase or decrease as needed. Long term capital is also not required because rail uses existing infrastructure. Diluent is not needed for transportation by rail, and finally rail provides a safe back-up in the event a pipeline is disrupted.
“Both modes [rail and pipelines] are safe and the risk of accidental releases of product is extremely low for both modes of transport, with no appreciable difference considering both spill frequency and size,” he wrote.