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Volume of Crude Oil Moving by Rail in the United States and Canada

U.S. crude oil production has risen sharply in recent years, with much of the increased output moving by rail. In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2013, they originated 407,761 carloads. In the first half of 2014, it was 229,798 carloads. Much of the recent increase in crude oil production has been in North Dakota, where crude oil production rose from an average of 81,000 barrels per day in 2003 to more than one million barrels per day by mid-2014, making it the second-largest oil producing state. Crude oil output in Texas, the top crude oil producing state, was relatively flat from 2003 to 2009, but has skyrocketed since then, exceeding three million barrels per day by mid-2014. Canada ships 3.2 million barrels a day via pipeline and 215,000 barrels a day via rail.

Assuming, for simplicity, that each rail tank car holds about 30,000 gallons (714 barrels) of crude oil, the 229,798 carloads of crude oil originated by U.S. Class I railroads in the first half of 2014 was equivalent to 900,000 barrels per day moving by rail. According to EIA data, total U.S. domestic crude oil production in the first half of 2014 was 8.2 million barrels per day, so the rail share was around 11 percent of the total.

Advantages of Transporting Crude Oil by Rail

Pipelines have traditionally transported most crude oil, but in recent years railroads have become critical players. In addition to the fact that railroads provide transportation capacity in many areas where pipeline capacity is insufficient, railroads offer a number of other advantages for transporting crude oil:

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