From A to B: The Future of Rail

As bureaucratic red tape ensnares pipeline projects, shippers are turning to railroads as an alternative mode of transportation. Sustained by the unexpected increase in shipping crude oil by rail, some companies are beginning to consider transporting natural gas as remote drilling locations emerge far from existing infrastructure.

The booming natural gas industry is in desperate need of improved modes of transport to send its growing number of shipments to processing plants.

Every year, the United States consumes nearly 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. With this growing consumption, legislators and industry professionals have been signaling for an improved transportation system.

President Barack Obama has been a strong proponent of natural gas, calling it a “bridge” between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources, and encouraging its use throughout his administration. Currently, there are 305,000 miles of natural gas pipelines throughout the nation, shipping gas from coast to coast for consumer and industrial use. Pipelines, however, can take years to build in today’s regulatory and political environment, and shippers have been turning to rail as a potential solution.

But transporting gas by rail, most likely as cryogenic liquefied natural gas (LNG), faces obstacles. Natural gas by rail is years away and likely to face strong public resistance after a series of explosive crude-by-rail accidents. The technology is in its infancy, with no current tank cars permitted to carry the fuel on U.S. rails. Nor are there enough plants that convert natural gas to LNG to support a robust gas-by-rail market. However, developing and testing rail cars and locomotives capable of shipping LNG will create new jobs and industry that previously did not exist, while incentivizing advances.

As we explore the opportunities of natural gas across the nation, we must invest in all forms of infrastructure innovation and modernization to secure our energy independence.