Amtrak Passengers Rudely Screwed by Crude.

The media is starting to notice the awful rail transportation problems in North Dakota. Since the recent discovery of vast oil deposits there, the BNSF railroad has doubled and redoubled and redoubled again the number of 100-plus car trains hauling all that crude oil to refineries in other parts of the country.

But there have been problems.

For one thing, there is pretty clear evidence that this particular crude oil is much more volatile that most other types. Translation: the stuff can blow up if there’s a derailment or a collision.

Well, guess what … there was collision and it blew up. Luckily, no one was killed. Still, it made a huge mess and tied up rail traffic for many hours.

But there’s another problem and nobody’s talking about it … not the railroads, not the government, and sure as hell not the oil companies. The huge increase in the number of these oil trains has caused unprecedented congestion and basically wrecked the schedule of Amtrak’s once-premier train, the Empire Builder. Over the past several months, the train, which operates daily in each direction between Chicago and both Seattle and Portland, has run as much as eight or even ten hours late.

In fact, as I type this, the westbound Empire Builder is five hours and 39 minutes late departing Williston, North Dakota; the eastbound train left Winona, Minnesota seven hours and four minutes late.

Yes, it’s a big mess. But the thing is, everyone’s fretting about the freight congestion and some people are concerned about the safety problem. But nobody gives a damn about the passengers!

There are roughly 200 people on each of those trains and every single one has been – at a bare minimum – seriously inconvenienced. Furthermore, those huge delays mean passengers will miss train or bus connections, be no-shows for medical appointments, have to spend a night in a hotel, and incur other unanticipated expenses.

Ah, but never mind. The crude must go through.