Oil train

A train carrying oil cars moves through the BNSF railyard in Minneapolis.

With lower crude oil prices, North Dakota drillers dramatically cut production over the past winter and spring, but trains continue to roll through Midwestern communities loaded with the volatile cargo.

Data released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that even as overall volumes of crude rail shipments fell last year, the amount of crude on the nation’s rails last year was still higher than in any year prior to 2014. The 325.8 million barrels was more than twice what was shipped in 2012 and 16 times the level in 2010.

In the first three months of this year, more than 33.6 million barrels of oil were shipped by rail from Midwestern rigs. That works out to more than five fully-loaded trains each day. At the peak of the Bakken oil boom it was about 12 trains per day.

Overall U.S. oil production in the first quarter of 2016 was down only 4 percent from the all-time peak in 2015.

For perspective, trains carry less than 5 percent of the nation’s oil supply (the majority flows through pipelines). But most of the crude that is shipped by rail comes from the 13-state Midwest region, and more than 80 percent of that comes from North Dakota, which last year pumped out more than 428 million barrels.

That volatile Bakken oil ends up in refineries around the country, but more than half goes to the East Coast, and the most direct rail routes run through Minnesota and Wisconsin. Two of those lines — the BNSF and Canadian Pacific — intersect in La Crosse.

Midwestern crude rail shipments were down less than a percent in 2015, according to the EIA, and there was a slight increase in the amount moved from the Midwest to the East Coast.

According to the most recent information filed with state safety officials, BNSF reports moving 20 to 30 oil trains per week on its lines that run along the Wisconsin bank of the Mississippi River. That’s down from the 39 trains per week the railroad reported in June 2014.

On the Minnesota side, Canadian Pacific in March reported an average of just over five trains per week, down from nine in 2014.

The sharp rise in oil train shipment that happened between 2010 and 2014 prompted concern among citizens and lawmakers, especially after several fiery crashes, including a a 2013 runaway train that exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and leveling nearly half the town.

Five U.S. oil trains derailed last year, including a BNSF train that went up in flames after leaving the tracks near Galena, Ill., and a Canadian Pacific train that left the tracks in Watertown, Wis. Last week a Union Pacific train carrying oil derailed and caught fire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The federal government has moved to make tank cars safer and step up rail inspections, but rules adopted last year by the Federal Railroad Administration allow the older model tankers to remain in service through 2023, and the Department of Transportation’s inspector general said in April the agency has not taken the necessary steps to carry out its oversight of rail bridge safety.

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Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

(11) comments


Oz....(Chicken Little) the sky is falling. The sky is falling. Media says you should be scared of ISIS. Media says you should be scared of mosquito virus. Media says you should be scared of planes blowing up and trains blowing up and dangerous gorrilas in zoos and gang fights and fires and toxins and shootings and aliens......you, Zo must be so scared of the outside world. Just stay inside and dont answer the phone or door. Live in fear little one. Live in fear


But if us psychos need to present facts.... the first rail line in LaCrosse was in 1857. No major derailment in that entire time except for cars driving around gates only to get hit......I would say its been pretty safe.


These oil train explosions are perfectly safe if you wear the proper fireproof clothing, such as a raincoat or a parka. Carry around a fire extinguisher too or a can of shaving cream. Spray shaving cream around to put out the oil fire. It's all up to you!

Incendie à Lac-Mégantic



Oh, I guess its time for tribune reports to scare the public again with an oil train story. Nothing else to report on, so you drege up old news to get everyone worked up. Classy


An oil train just blew up a few days ago in Oregon. It could've happened here. That doesn't bother you?

Melowese Richardson

Doesn't bother me, but that has to do more with being knowledgeable about the subject matter at hand.


Nope not at all. Meanwhile, a gas tanker blew up in 2015 on I94 in Detroit area and Wyoming. That could have happened here as well. Doesn't that bother you?


Yeah, that bothers me, too.

That's why I don't buy any. How's it feel to burn $50+/week?

you think you know

Simply because you claim not to buy gas, does not mean you don't use items that are produced with the devil oil on these trains you seem to hate so much. If you own a hydrogen car, cool. If you have an electric car, what do you suppose gets burned to produce the electricity you use?


A man shot and killed 50 in Orlando too. If your that scared by bad things happening every day, dig a cellar and hide yourself in it until you pass away naturally. You need media to tell you what you should be scared of. Just a pawn


I don't see where the Tribune "told us to be scared." You confuse factual reporting with the pants-soiling screeds of Faux Neus.

Furthermore, I don't need the media to tell me that bomb trains going thru my home town are a problem. I only need common sense to see that, something which you seem to lack.

By the way, to try to conflate this issue with what happened in Orlando this morning exposes you as a psychopathic troll.

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