Friday, April 1, 2016

Water By Train: The Way of the Future?

Could trains like these one day be carrying water?

A few kilometres from my house, the Red River flows slowly, steadily north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean—all of it wasted, some would say. Think of what all that water could do for places caught in drought like California and Arizona?
In fact, over the years, there have been some crazy plans to reverse the flow of Canada’s north-flowing rivers, sending the water south to the U.S.

In the 1950s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the North American Power and Water Alliance (NAWAPA), which called for using nuclear explosions to blast canals to divert water from Canada to its southern neighbour. 

Today, such a plan would be inconceivable. But people are still talking about sending water from Canada and the northern states south—this time by train.

According to an article in Railway Age, Water By Rail (WBR) has become a topic of discussion in various railway and other circles today.

Referencing a May, 2015 story on MSNBC and NBC titled “California Drought: Can Railroads Come to the Rescue?,” the article quoted a BNSF spokesman who said “we certainly have that capability today.”
It also quoted BNSF Chairman Matt Rose from 2014 where he told the magazine: “We actually have an initiative on water by rail. We have looked at it seriously several times and haven’t quite seen the economics work but it might in the future.”

Also that year, Union Pacific Senior Vice President-Corporate Relations Robert Turner said that “there are multiple variables to be considered regarding shipping water by rail. As with any new shipment option, a thorough assessment is required prior to providing general comment on the logistical feasibility.”

At first glance, the magazine said, “WBR seems as economically feasible as crude by rail.” 
But there are questions, such as: Where will the water come from? Can enough tank cars be bought or built? How much water can each car actually carry, and how does water behave while in transit? Would sub-freezing temperatures present challenges during loading or shipment?
Using trains to carry water has been done in other countries, such as India, Australia and Israel. Water was also delivered by rail to communities such in U.S. states such as California, Arizona and Illinois.

One thing moving water by rail would do is give railways a way to deal with the 165,000 DOT-111 tank cars that no longer meet the latest AAR safety standards for carrying hazardous cargo. 

The cars, which are currently used to carry oil, may be forced out of service in the future; they could be re-purposed to carry water (after cleaning and re-lining, of course).

Of course, it’s not only Canadian water that could be moved by train; the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest sends an enormous quantity of water to the ocean every year.
If California and the American southwest is indeed entering a long-term mega-drought, then moving water by train might get more attention, and give modelers another train option for their layouts.

1 comment:

  1. I was out in Amboy, California last year. The town has no water supply of its own, so it has gotten its water by rail for years. Interesting stuff!