Burgeoning oil and gas production in Texas with the application of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques has dramatically impacted the condition of rural roadway infrastructure. Many rural roadways are now inundated with trucks traveling to and from oil and gas well areas. Recent estimates indicate that each horizontal well requires over 2,000 truckloads for construction, drilling operations, maintenance, and crude oil transport over the life of the well. Rail has been an active partner in oil and gas exploration by shuttling fracking sand and drilling supplies to the oil and gas regions and transporting crude and petroleum products from the regions not served by pipelines. This partnership is restricted by limited rail service points and infrastructure close to the active wells; however, expanding existing rail services and network infrastructure could move rail operations closer to the active production areas. The cost and safety impacts of extreme reduction in pavement life may be offset substantially with increased use of rail transport closer to drilling locations.
This paper examines the potential options regarding expanded use of rail transportation to address the growing costs of roadway rehabilitation in energy production areas in order to reduce roadway network impacts. Rail service expansion can be through better use of the existing freight rail network, increasing the number of and better placement of transloading facilities along the rail network, and/or through improved rail capacity from double tracking or extending new rail lines. Both the private and public sectors potentially could play a role. A number of privately developed transloading facilities have sprung up along existing rail lines, attempting to deliver fracking sand, pipe, and other supplies. Additionally, public economic development corporations have been actively pursuing development. Expansion of the railroad network could come through the use of special districts such as Rural Rail Transportation Districts (RRTDs), Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs), or through reactivation of abandoned rail lines. These trends are also examined.