Marcellus Shale Drilling – Revival for Short-Line Railroads?

You can add short-line railroads to the list of businesses that benefit from drilling in the Marcellus Shale. And it’s all because of sand. Drillers like to use a special kind of sand found in the Midwest. They need railroad cars full of the stuff when drilling. The sand aids in the process of opening or “fracking” horizontally drilled wells. And lots of sand means drillers need a way to get it to the drill site. Enter short-line railroads.

Two years ago Tom Myles purchased the 35-mile Wellsboro & Corning Railroad, not knowing that a drilling boom would be a boom for his company.

In the two years since Myles took over the Wellsboro & Corning line, cargo traffic has nearly tripled, to 849 railcars last year, the most in its modern history. In a recession, Myles has hired 10 people to transfer sand from the cars into trucks.

He anticipates that business will nearly double this year, to 1,600 railcars. Almost all of that is sand used in hydraulic fracturing, the process that shatters the dense Marcellus Shale under high pressure to unlock its stores of natural gas.

“We sold $40 million of sand last year,” O’Neill said. “This is now our primary business.”*

*The Philadelphia Inquirer (Mar 21) – Marcellus Shale sends short-line railroad booming