Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Railroading data

Yes, that 12 step program is failing me.

So the news, and some rather amazing photos, from West Virginia tell the tale of the recent train derailment not far from Pittsburgh. I think the photo highlighting a sign of "Boomer Branch Road" and a dateline of "Mount Carbon, WV" deserves a Pulitzer for its framing.

I've pointed out before the lack of publicly available rail data.  I really want to know how many other urban centers have as much oil moving by rail through them as Pittsburgh does these days. If someone has a data source to answer that, please let me know.

Why care?  Some may recall the impact rail accidents have had on Pittsburgh, including the evacuation of almost all of Bloomfield and environs in 1987.  More recently in Philadelphia, the final destination of much of the rail shipments passing through Pittsburgh, public officials fought to get the industry to release data for emergency planning.So still not public data, but a start.

I have no idea whether similar data access is an issue on this side of the state, but it sure is curious there have been no comparable media stories on rail data here as best I can tell.  It actually seemed pretty hard for our media friends to get officials to even admit there was any oil traveling by rail through the city at all. See this from  May 29, 2014:  "However, a state official said Bakken crude does come through Pittsburgh on the way to Philadelphia".  Talk about pulling teeth and stating the obvious.  


It turns out this all may be a passing phenomenon.  Some have speculated that a second order effect of the collapse of world oil prices may be to decrease the incentive to bring North Dakota oil to east coast refineries.  I think the argument is that it may now be more competitive to again import oil directly from overseas and shipped in via tankers.  We will see how that works out.