US crude oil by rail volumes have fluctuated sharply over the past decade.  In 2008, US Class I railroads originated 9,500 carloads of crude oil.  That grew to 493,146carloads in 2014, but then had fallen to 128,967 carloads by2017.  Rail crude oil volumes are affected by a variety of factors, including pipeline capacity and crude oil prices.[1]

The Shale Revolution Has Led to Sharply Higher Crude Oil Production

  • US crude oil production in 1970 averaged 9.6 million barrels per day. By 2008, it had fallen to just 5.0 million barrels per day as new fields failed to keep pace with depletion of older fields. However, thanks mainly to growth in shale oil, US crude oil production grew to 9.4 million barrels per day in 2017and will come close to 11 million barrels per day in 2018.
  • Texas and North Dakota have accounted for most of the increase in US crude oil output. In North Dakota, crude oil production rose from 98,000 barrels per day in 2005 to 1.1 million barrels per day in 2017.  Crude oil output in Texas has skyrocketed, rising from 1.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 3.5 million barrels per day in 2017.

US Crude Oil Production

The growth in domestic crude oil production presents a tremendous opportunity for the United States to move closer to energy independence.  Railroads have been crucial to this effort:

  • Historically, pipelines have transported most crude oil. However, especially in North Dakota but elsewhere too, higher crude oil production outpaced growth in pipeline capacity. Railroads have helped fill this gap.  Originated carloads of crude oil on US Class I railroads rose from 9,500 in 2008 to 493,146 in 2014.[2]  Terminated carloads of crude oil on US Class I railroads rose from 9,344 in 2008 to 540,383 in 2014.
  • However, growth in pipeline capacity, a narrowing in the “spread” between domestic and imported oil, and other factors have led to a sharp decline in rail shipments of crude oil. After peaking in 2014, originated carloads of crude oil on US Class I railroads fell to128,967 in 2017, 74 percent lower than in 2014.
  • From the first quarter of 2009 through the third quarter of 2018, US Class I railroads originated 2.11 million carloads of crude oil and terminated 2.49 million carloads. At its peak in 2014, crude oil accounted for 1.6 percent of total originated carloads on Class I railroads.  In 2017, it accounted for less than 0.5 percent.
  • The amount of crude oil in a rail carload varies depending on (among other things) the source of the oil, the type of tank car used, and the season of the year. In 2017, the average carload of crude oil originated in the US carried 691 barrels of oil.  Using that, the 128,967 carloads of crude oil originated by US Class I railroads in 2017 was equivalent to around 244,000 barrels per day.  According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), US crude oil production in 2017 averaged 9.4 million barrels per day, so the rail share was approximately 2.6 percent of total production.  In 2014, the peak year for rail crude oil shipments, railroads accounted for around 11 percent of US crude oil production.

The Bakken region has accounted for the vast majority of rail crude oil originations. According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority (NDPA), near the end of 2014 around 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day were moving out of the area by rail.  By the end of 2017, though, this was down to fewer than 140,000 barrels per day.  In the first four months of 2018, it was up to around 240,000 barrels per day, according to the NDPA. 

  • The rail share of North Dakota crude oil movements averaged around 62 percent in 2014, but had fallen to around 10 percent by the end of 2017. Rail was up to close to 20 percent in 2018 through September.  Meanwhile, the pipeline share rose from around 31 percent in 2014 to more than 70 percent today.
  • The EIA releases data each month on US crude by rail movements, including movements between Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs), as shown in the maps below.

Rail Security Awareness[3]

  • New York: Suspect Arrested for Allegedly Pulling Subway Emergency Brake

On Thursday, 23 May 2019, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) reportedly arrested 23-year-old Isaiah Thompson for pulling the emergency brake on a northbound 2 train near 14th Street in Manhattan two days prior.  Just before his arrest, MTA officials told media sources they believed a group of suspects, described as a mix of anarchists and graffiti artists, were responsible for the recent spike.  According to the NYPD, there have been at least 40 separate incidents since March, including 12 seemingly malicious brake pulls so far this month. 

  • Minnesota: Threats and Attacks Reported at University Light Rail Station

On Friday, 17 May 2019 law enforcement personnel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, responded to a call that a group of male youths had been reportedly threatening people at the University of Minnesota light rail platform.  According to local media reports, at least two of the suspects were armed with metal pipes.  The incidents occurred at the East Bank station of the Green Line.

  • India: Political Clashes Cause Train Disruptions at Kankinara Station

On Tuesday, 21 May 2019, train services in the Eastern Railway Sealdah division saw a second day of transportation disruptions due ongoing protests from demonstrators who continued to block railway tracks at Kolkata’s Kankinara Train Station.

  • South Africa: Metrorail Security Forces Arrest 18 Suspects
    According to local media reports, over the past week South African transportation security forces have arrested 18 suspects following weekly Metrorail security operations.

About Wapack Labs


Wapack Labs, located in New Boston, NH and is a Cyber Service Provider and Threat Analysis and Intelligence organization supporting the Red Sky Alliance and clients in numerous sectors.  For questions or comments regarding this report, please contact the lab directly by at 1-844-492-7225, or


[2] “Originated” carloads are loaded carloads beginning a rail journey; “terminated” carloads are loaded carloads completing a rail journey.  US Class I originations do not equal U.S. Class I terminations because some crude oil that originates on U.S. Class I railroads is terminated by U.S. short line railroads or by railroads in Canada.  Likewise, some crude oil that terminates on U.S. Class I railroads originates on railroads in Canada or on U.S. short line railroads.


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