Crude oil railroad tank cars

A line of tank cars with placards indicating they carry crude oil is shown on BNSF Railway tracks in 2014 in Sioux City. The railroad has reduced the number of trains carrying at least 1 million gallons of crude oil through the city.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | BNSF Railway has cut in half the number of large oil trains traveling through Sioux City, according to a new report.

Twelve to 18 trains with at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil are passing through Iowa's fourth largest city each week, the nation's second-largest rail carrier said in a May 1 report to the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. That's down from a high of about 30 per week in early April.

In mid-February, about a dozen such trains were moving through the region, the carrier told the state agency.

About 35 tank cars are required to haul at least 1 million gallons, but many trains haul far more cars.

BNSF, which is owned by Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., hauls much of the oil extracted from the Bakken shale formation in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

From South Dakota's Minnehaha County, the BNSF oil trains enter Northwest Iowa in Lyon County and head south through Sioux, Plymouth and Woodbury counties. In the Sioux City limits, the track runs roughly parallel to Lewis Boulevard. The oil trains run through the mid-city rail yards before crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska.

At South Sioux City, the BNSF route continues south through Dakota and Thurston counties, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

BNSF's reduction in large oil trains comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Transportation introducing a new regime of rules governing trains that carry oil and many other flammable liquids.

The new rules say the cars will have to be built to stronger standards, and older cars phased out, to reduce the risk of catastrophic train crash and fire.

The regulations, which go into effect Oct. 1, respond to a series of fiery train crashes in the U.S. and Canada, including four so far this year.

In six to eight years, oil trains that don't have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, which automatically stop all the cars in a train at the same time, would face a 30 mph speed limit.

In another new change, the U.S. DOT said the railroads in the future will only need to inform local public safety agencies about oil train traffic and routes, bypassing state agencies. That information will be unavailable to the public and not subject to state or federal open records laws.

The Lincoln Journal Star's Richard Piersol contributed to this story.


County and education reporter

Load comments