Railroad industry surges during oil boom in southeast New Mexico



January 19, 2019

Note: This story originally appeared in the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

Extraction continues to grow in Permian Basin and southeast New Mexico, bringing more resources to the surface.

But products like oil and potash need to get out of the area and to market in increasing speeds and quantities.

Many companies take to the rails.

Rail cars traveling through the Carlsbad area almost tripled during the region’s recent oil boom, as more facilities were built, and more products needed to be moved.

In November 2016, about 150 rail cars daily – or about 4,250 per month – passed through the Carlsbad Subdivision that runs from Clovis to Loving, per data from Southwestern Railroads.

Operations shifted from Southwestern to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) in 2017.

That year saw about 400 cars per day pass through the division, or about 12,000 per month.

Southwestern Senior Vice President Bruce Carswell said the increase is no surprise amid significant growth in southeast New Mexico’s oil and gas industry.

“It tends to trend with economic cycles,” Carswell said. “A general view is what’s going on in the Permian (Basin) is phenomenal. It’s definitely created a lot more opportunities for other industries.”

That means more investment from rail companies to better maintain the rails during the uptick in volume.

Since it took over the region, BNSF has replaced roughly 36 miles of rail, over 43,000 ties, switches and bridges, records show.

Twenty-five crossings have been replaced or rehabbed at no cost to the local road authorities, said BNSF spokesman Joe Sloan.

Since 2000, Sloan said BNSF added more than $60 billion in capital to its overall network.

In 2018, the company spent $3.4 billion, mostly on rail maintenance and efforts to limit unscheduled outages.

About $500 million of that was spent on expansion and efficiency projects, records show.

Construction of a third mainline connected Belen to Dalies, and improving traffic and capacity in the area, with 10 miles of new track constructed, and five bridges and four grade crossings.

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