Exec: North American rail network could be headed for gridlock

Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., has dropped merger talks with CSX Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., and remarks this week by the always-blunt Canadian Pacific CEO E. Hunter Harrison are very telling about the future of oil traveling by rail.

The volume of oil, including that produced in the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and southern Canada, is soaring, and yet many communities are concerned about the increased rail traffic to carry the oil to refineries. In 2013 a derailment and resulting inferno in Quebec killed 47 people, and since then the issue has been on the minds of activists, local politicians and the U.S. government, which is considering stronger tank-car hulls and other safety improvements.

Harrison said mergers are needed to prevent gridlock in the North American rail system.

“There’s a desire to put more tonnage on the rail,” Harrison said during a conference call Tuesday, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail. At the same time, governments are saying that we want to slow you down because of [hazardous materials] and crude. There’s no more infrastructure [being built]. No one wants the railroad to run through their backyard, or their city.”

E&E Publishing’s Blake Sobczak has much more from Harrison on that subject. Here are quotes from Harrison in a story Wednesday on E&E’s Energy Wire page (subscription required):

“We even have issues on our network now where there’s city councils and groups of citizens banded together who say, ‘We don’t want you to run trains at night.’ … In my view, at least, we are quickly approaching a time where none of this works.”

In New York state, a coalition of environmental groups led by Earthjustice filed a petition with the state urging a ban on allowing older DOT-111 tank cars going through the Port of Albany. Charlene Benton, president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, said in an Earthjustice statement that many families live “within a few feet of these bomb trains. Our families deserve to live free of the daily fear that one of these trains will blow up in our backyard. The time to act is now, before it is too late.”