Risks of Oil-by-Rail Rear Their Head

Environmentalists in Canada are beginning to worry about the risks associated with transporting crude oil by rail. Better lat than never, I say.

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The so-called self-proclaimed "environmentalists" should be invited to go live in a cave, and stay asleep between sundown and sunup, the way Osama bin Laden wanted the world to live.  In actuality, the self-annointed refuse to accept that life involves a series of risks and risk trade-offs, and meanwhile use liquid fuels and electricity same as everyone else. Getting past the hypocrisy, how much risk is there in hauling oil across the flat expanses of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan?  Not much.  How much is there in hauling oil on rails running through the canyons of the Mountainous Far West?   Obviously, quite a bit more.   Having a derail there, with an entire oil train plunging 1,200 feet down into some mountain river below, will obviously make a huge mess and do a lot of damage.  And that is why you prioritize pipelines through the Rockies.  

The real "fight" in the Canadian West over oil-by-rail is over competing interests for rail capacity.  There are two rail lines, the Canadian National (CN) and the Canadian Pacific (CP).  The grain growers in the three Western Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are producing larger crops, and there is not enough rail, and locomotives and personnel, to haul it all to shipping ports, and also haul oil.  The rail companies are planning to add personnel and bit locomotives and grain cars, but I still don't see them moving more grain because the tracks are close to capacity, and oil is consuming more rail block space.  The real solution, other than construction of pipelines, is to rebuild the abandoned track in the north-central areas of those Provinces, link it together with a new East-West line into The Pas, Manitoba, and from there via a rebuilt and twinned line to Port Churchill and ship the grain out through the Arctic.  That route cuts three days off the shipping time to the UK, and gets you faster railcar turnaround times.  

But that is not the business model of the CN and CP.  They prefer to run grain on their trackage that is East-West in the South of the Provinces, ending up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on Lake Superior, there to be trans-loaded onto Lakers, big bulk carriers designed for the Great Lakes, then shipped to the Port of Montreal. Going the other way, the grain would end up in the Ports along the Pacific.  Nobody wants to ship into Port Churchill.  So the capacity of an entire port city, at least  one million tons of grain a year, is simply abandoned. And that is what pushes grain into a competing position with oil. 

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