Union Pacific Railroad has applied for permission to haul liquefied natural gas, which would add another combustible cargo to a U.S. rail network already being criticized for transporting ethanol and crude oil through populated areas.
The Omaha-based railroad said the application for a permit from the Federal Railroad Administration is in response to a request for liquefied natural gas transportation from an existing customer. Union Pacific operates 32,000 miles of track in the western United States, which is home to many natural gas production and storage installations.
If Union Pacific is granted the permit, it would be a first. “The rail system in America was built to connect population centers, with trains going through every downtown in the country,” Scher said. “It was never designed to haul hazardous materials, and in fact, you could say that if you were to design a rail system for hazardous materials, the one we have is the opposite of the one you would design.”
Scher said federal safety rules are already out of date for oil trains and their tank cars, with millions of gallons of oil a day riding the rails, up from nearly zero only five years ago, courtesy of skyrocketing production from new fields in Montana and North Dakota.
“To entertain the idea of new and potentially more dangerous cargo makes no sense at all,” Scher said.