Clearing our Crowded Rail Roads

America’s freight rail system has been described as “one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years.” Productivity has nearly doubled, energy efficiency has skyrocketed, and rates are nearly half of what they were in 1981. However, our region’s rail networks are facing challenges so far unprecedented in recent history.

The energy revolution occurring in the Midwest is currently unlocking vast amounts of resources, creating jobs, helping our manufacturing sector stay competitive, and making our country more energy independent. However, a large percentage of the energy currently produced is currently being transported to market by rail as rail capacity is squeezed.  Demand for space on our region’s rails has simply not kept up with supply.

The stress placed on our rail system has caused unfortunate mistakes. Our region has seen the results of these accidents first hand.  Moreover, our region’s rail infrastructure is facing the prospect of still further increases in volume and frequency of energy transports. Between February and March, Sioux City has recorded a nearly 100% jump in the amount of oil trains coming through the city of over 80,000, carrying around 1 million gallons of crude oil each.

While the oil trains keep rolling, our region’s farmers are left with the challenge of getting their products to market, with backlogs of nearly 1,000 trains waiting to ship grain and other products being recorded within the past year. A recent letter to BNSF shareholders stressed the “disappointment” they caused some of their customers by not being able to accommodate their shipments.

While our freight rail system continues to be an example for the rest of the world, we believe that diversifying our energy infrastructure will mutually benefit energy producers, farmers, and the general public. Proposed pipeline projects in our region, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline are the key to meeting these challenges. Oil pipelines have been and continue to be the safest means of transporting energy, while doing so for a fraction of the price.

Expanding our pipeline infrastructure will increase safety, reduce energy costs, benefit our region’s farmers all while reducing the strain on our region’s rail infrastructure.