BNSF’S 150-Car Sand Train Highlights Growth in Locomotive Power

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When someone needs to move 33 million pounds all at one time, it’s nice to know they can call on BNSF. In this case, the someone was U.S. Silica Holdings, Inc., which needed to move a 16,500 ton (33 million pounds) load of U.S. Silica White® frac sand 1,272 miles from Ottawa, Illinois to Loving, New Mexico.

BNSF Railway’s recent a 150-car frac sand train, which made a delivery to Rangeland Energy’s RIO Hub, highlights the growth in locomotive power over the past two decades.

The load, which was delivered October 2, 2015, was one of the heaviest unit frac sand trains ever run in North America.

Demand for sand has boomed in recent years as hydraulic fracking needs thousands of tons of sand per well. The sand used is “frac sand,” a high-purity quartz sand with very durable round grains.

The RIO Hub is a 300-acre rail facility located near Loving, New Mexico, in the center of the Delaware Basin’s drilling and production activity. The terminal provides services for outbound crude oil and condensate and inbound frac sand as part of Rangeland’s RIO System, which serves oil and gas producers in the Delaware Basin in West Texas.

“Despite the current pricing environment, the Delaware Basin remains an economic play, and producers operating in the region continue to require increasingly large volumes of frac sand to drill and complete their wells,” notes Rangeland Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Broker. “Our goal is to serve the needs of our customers, and we are pleased to have the capacity and flexibility to receive this record-breaking unit train at RIO. Rangeland was able to accommodate the unit train’s arrival and unload it in a timely manner because we designed the RIO Hub to have the size and scale to meet the sand or oil market’s requirements in a way that increases efficiencies and reduces costs. We expect sand volumes to continue to increase as operators drill longer wells and complete larger fracs. We are well positioned to meet those needs at the RIO Hub.”

Increased Locomotive Power

The Association of American Railroads notes that the average tonnage of freight that a train can haul has been dramatically increasing, due in part to improvements in locomotive power and rail car design. One of the keys is the efficiency of modern hybrid diesel-electric locomotives that capture braking energy and store it in batteries. The average freight train hauled 3,606 tons of freight in 2014, which was up from just 2,222 tons in 1980.

© 2015 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.