Ethanol rail terminals offer alternative to trucking

By Erin Voegele | July 08, 2008
New ethanol terminals opening along major rail lines are giving producers, wholesalers and retailers an affordable way to receive shipments, compared with the more common method of trucking, which may be especially welcome as the cost of diesel fuel continues to climb.

"The decision to carry and offer ethanol-blended fuels has really been centered on the cost," said Robert White, deputy director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council. "There is no doubt that there are markets where we would see more adoption if transportation costs dropped."

Safe Handling Inc., a bulk product transportation and toll processing company, has opened western Pennsylvania's first rail-to-truck ethanol transloading terminal in Mount Pleasant, Pa. The new terminal is located on three Class I railroad systems, including CSX Transportation, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern railroads, giving wholesalers the opportunity to purchase ethanol from a wide range of producers and choose a rail line based on the lowest offered rates. The terminal can receive up to 30 tanker cars at a time, each holding approximately 29,000 gallons of ethanol. The facility has the capacity to transload 180,000 gallons per day and has private siding capable of accommodating 145 railcars.

An industry leader in ethanol handling and distribution terminals, U.S. Development Group LLC has opened a new state-of-the-art facility in Arlington, Texas. Served by the Union Pacific Railroad, Dallas Fort Worth Rail Terminal LLC consists of a rail terminal, pipeline operation, truck load operation and mass storage facility. The terminal has an 84-railcar high-speed offloading facility, and outbound truck and pipeline capabilities. It also features 130,000 barrels of dedicated storage capacity.

Provista Renewable Fuels Marketing LLC, with SHS Inc. as its single member, has signed a letter of intent to partner with Trans Load Ltd. Inc. and Blendstar LLC to construct and operate an ethanol distribution center in Birmingham, Ala. Provista will be the exclusive supplier of fuel to the terminal. Trans Load Ltd. and its Birmingham warehousing and transloading location, served by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, will be responsible for the placement and off-loading of railcars. Blendstar will handle engineering, construction and back-office accounting of the new storage facility.

Other ethanol rail terminals around the country are in the planning and construction phases. This increase in the number of terminals should help create a more coherent system of ethanol distribution, bringing biofuel products to previously underserved markets.