Crude Oil Trains in WW II

Discussion in 'Freight Operations' started by WindsorSpring, Jul 7, 2014.

  1. WindsorSpring

    WindsorSpring Member

    Crude petroleum trains appear running through Kirkwood once in awhile on what had been the Eastern Division. Current practice and concern centers very much on safety. Among the precautions are use of empty boxcars, airslide hoppers or other covered hoppers as buffer cars between the train and the locomotives. There are also efforts to re-design the tank cars and new ones with a shield protecting the ends of the cars have shown up frequently in recent trains.

    All this is in contrast to photos of the crude petroleum trains during WW II. Two images of westbound empty trains in Frisco Power​ (second edition) show tank car trains with no buffer cars. One shows 1520 near Sullivan (p 171) and the other (p 210) is the Barham photo of 4509 proudly lettered for "Frisco Fast Freight." To be sure, these are most likely empties. Was it general practice in 1942-1945 to pull loaded crude oil trains with no buffer cars?

    Were there any special rules or procedures written for this traffic?

    On a side note, it is interesting that the caption on p 210 mentions "and average of seven oil trains of 60 to 70 cars each ... daily." In 2014, when crude oil trains come through Kirkwood, they have 103 or 104 tank cars with a buffer car at each end. There are seldom more than two per day and these frequently have distributed power.
    mountaincreekar likes this.
  2. SteveM

    SteveM Member Supporter

    As far a current rules, the source of the crude and its chemistry determine whether buffers (and how many) are required. Knowledgeable discussions of this on other sites.
  3. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    George, I've not seen anything from an operational standpoint that would have required any buffer cars during the 1940s. My guess is that, for a line that was swamped with wartime traffic, even an MTY 40' boxcar would have been extra, undesirable tonnage. It goes without staying that the safety element was not the same as it was even in the, say, 1980s.

    I do have some C&NW instructional manuals from the late 80s/90s on handling of hazardous materials cars, and they have some very specific instructions as to the types and quantity of cars that should separate the head-end from the haz-mat cars. I'd have to double-check, but I believe the types/quantities also varied depending on the placarding.

    Excellent question; I hope that others can chime in with more hard data or information on the 1940s operations.

    Best Regards,
  4. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    Pages 150-153 from the Rules of the Transportation Department, March 1, 1946 may provide some information with regard to WWII era practice.

    Attached Files:

  5. tmfrisco

    tmfrisco Member Supporter

    Karl, I wonder if "explosives" and "dangerous" were the only two placards at that time. If so, then I assume that dangerous would include the categories: combustible, oxidizer, corrosive, toxic (poison), etc. that we have today. We have many more categories of hazmat today with each one having its own set of rules. One thought I had about the oil trains of WWII is: the east bound trains from Oklahoma were probably fuel and lubricating oils, but not crude oil as these oil trains of today are. While I am sure that pipelines and railroad tanks fed crude into the refineries, surely they would have been from the oil fields near the refineries. Tulsa had several refineries during that period, but the two that survived were Mid-Continent and Texaco, both now Holly refineries.

    Terry Jankowski
  6. WindsorSpring

    WindsorSpring Member

    Terry makes an interesting point that the tank car trains were carrying finished products (fuels, lubricants) and I am sure that was a big portion of the traffic.

    However, refineries on the east coast, specifically Sunoco at Philadelphia, PA and Standard Oil of NJ at Bayway, NJ were big operations prior to 1941. If German submarine attacks on coastal shipping had truly blocked crude supplies to these refineries, they were too big and too strategically-located to allow them to remain idle. Therefore it is plausible trains carried crude to them despite the potential hazard and higher cost.
  7. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    I believe that I have evidence that supports the notion that most of the eastbound loads coming from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana through the St Louis gateway were tank cars full of crude that were destined for eastern refineries, which were being blockaded by German "U-boots". I will try to post it tomorrow.
  8. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Karl, thanks very much for the details. My oldest Rules of the Transportation Department only goes back to 3-1-1957, so it's good to see the facts from a time period closer to George's question and my modeling era.

    My understanding had always been that the heavy Oklahoma-St. Louis oil traffic resulted from the inability to ship oil to eastern refineries and avoid the U-boats operating in the Atlantic. Or rather, not necessarily an inability but as a risk avoidance measure. I'd guess that underwriters had a say somewhere. At any rate, George's hypothesis would sure seem to jive with this.
  9. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    I believe that the case can be made that on the Frisco’s Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas lines solid trains of loaded, eastbound tank cars carried crude for delivery to east coast refineries.

    Both Collias and Stagner state that the Frisco handled solid trains of crude oil. Stagner also has photographic evidence of tank cars coming from the Ft Smith Sub. Additional sources bear out their contention. One such example is:
    “Entry of the United State brought one special, but very important consequence for railroads. In ordinary times, the petroleum refineries along the East Coast are supplied with crude oil from the Gulf Coast by tank vessels. A large amount of refined produce is brought to the east by the same route. In the autumn of 1941 diversion of tankers to trans-oceanic service had threatened to interfere with this movement, and some oil for the East was diverted to the railroads. The weekly rail traffic reached an average of 141,000 bbls per day in October, but then declined rapidly. After the United States became a belligerent in December, however, a (German) submarine campaign made coastwise shipments extremely hazardous; furthermore, the diversion of tankers to other uses was accelerated. After a few weeks of hesitation, the rail movement into the East began to increase rapidly, reaching a level of over 800, 000 bbls per day during part of the following summer. This traffic accounts for a large portion of the sharp extra-seasonal rise early in 1942. (800,000 bbls per day equals 24 mm bbls per month or by weight of about 0.15 tons per bbl, 3.6 mm tons. The average length of haul by rail may well have been at least 1,000 miles, and the total ton-miles therefore at least 3.6 billion. Traffic of all kinds in April 1942 and in each of the following four months exceeded that in November by about 15 billion ton-miles.)

    The disturbance of the normal currents in the flow of oil may be illustrated by comparing rail traffic in the third quarter of 1941 and in the third quarter of 1942; Table 5. Ordinarily the railroads carry little crude; it moves by pipeline or pipe and tanker to the refineries. Between the two quarters, tonnage of crude oil originated by the railroads more than tripled as Eastern refineries found their ordinary supply routes cut off and turned to overland shipment. “

    TABLE 5

    Petroleum Traffic Originated and Terminated by Railroads
    Third Quarter, 1941 and 1942

    Southwestern States

    Originating Crude Petroleum

    1941: 376M tons
    1942: 3.7MM tons

    Terminating Crude Petroleum

    1941: 652M tons
    1942: 227M tons

    Originating Gasoline and other Refined Product

    1941: 3.16 MM tons
    1942: 4.12 MM tons

    Terminating Gasoline and other Refined Product

    1941: 1.5MM tons
    1942: 576M tons

    Source Railway Traffic Expansion and Use of Resources in World War II by Thor Hultgren, National Bureau of Economic Research, 1944, pp7-9.

    In short, the crude produced in the Southwest, i.e., Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and not refined locally was piped to Gulf of Mexico ports, where it loaded to ships for movement to refineries along the East Coast. It must be remembered that the chemistry of crude is quite variable, and refineries “tune” their processes to suit their feedstock. They like consistency with the feedstock. In the oil business, when we make a wildcat discovery, samples are taken, and our marketing folks work to find a refinery that will buy our crude. If there is not a buyer/refiner, then the field will not be developed further. Believe it or not, at present, it’s a buyers’ market, which speaks to refining capacity in the US.

    On June 10, 1942, the WPB approved the first section of the 24’ pipeline, which extended from Longview, TX to Norris City, IL. This section delivered it first oil on Feb 13, 1943. The second section, which extended to Phoenixville, PA was completed on Aug 14, 1943. From Phoenixville, two 20” lines were built to New York City and Philadelphia. Later a second pipeline, Little Inch, which was dedicated to refined product was approved and built.

    The German U-Boot Service of the Kreigsmarine enjoyed its “Second Happy Time” or American Shooting Season after the US entered the war, when it was able to operate with impunity off the US coasts. These are the operations that forced the re-routing of crude oil. By the spring of 1943, the Allies had the resources and technology to commence offensive ASW which during the summer of 1943 forced Doenitz to pull back and develop new strategies. This effectively ended the U-boot threat to the US coast.

    The lessened threat from German U-boot combined with the completion of Big Inch and Little Inch, eased greatly the burden on the Frisco and other railroads to deliver crude to the East.

    Based on the non-rail fan sources, I think that it is safe to infer that solid trains of tank cars indeed carried a single commodity, i.e., crude oil, which was destined for the east coast. To be sure, the Frisco handled refined products, but since these products would have had many more consignees, I think that these shipments would be seen as blocks of tanks cars within a train. On the Frisco, I doubt that solid trains of refined product existed.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 27, 2015
  10. WindsorSpring

    WindsorSpring Member

    Thanks, Karl, for researching the sources that established that crude oil was indeed shipped in trains and provided background as to why this was done. I did not realize that diversion of tanker vessels to transoceanic service was an additional reason why crude oil shipment by rail increased in the 1940 to 1941 era.

    The pages from the Rules of the Transportation Department, March 1, 1946 show there were sound procedures in place. I am struck by the statement on page 151 that solid trains of tank cars placarded "Dangerous" may be handled on through trains provided they are "Not nearer than sixth car from engine, or caboose in service."

    How was this done in a "solid train of tank cars?" Did they perhaps place six empties behind the engine and another six empties in front of the caboose? A 60 to 70-car train would then be 48 to 58 loads and 12 empties.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 9, 2014
  11. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

    tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018) Passed Away February 11, 2018

    The Central Division handled trains of aviation fuel destined for St. Louis . It came in from the Kansas City Southern at Poteau,OK. according to the late rail historian Charles Winters in an unpublished 1996 recollection of Fort Smith, AR WW II freight traffic.

    Many of the coastal tankers used to move petroleum products from the Gulf to the Northeast via the Intracoastal Waterway were small. I doubt they would be suitable for transatlantic service. The mass production of T-2 tankers solved the problem.
  12. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Superb job of laying out the theory and supporting it with the specifics, Karl. I think I'm going to have to find the source you used; it looks like a must-read for anyone modeling the WWII era who is also interested in the operations side of things.

    Seems that '41-'42 and early '43 would have been the heyday for the "Frisco pipeline."

    Tom, regarding the aviation fuel running from Poteau: was St. Louis the final destination, or was it then forwarded onto other points east? Wonder which refinery/company in Poteau would have produced/refined the aviation fuel?

    Best Regards,
  13. SteveM

    SteveM Member Supporter

    Chris, the KCS would have hauled the tanks up from south Texas and Louisiana, interchanged at Poteau where the two lines crossed. Presumably the power for that train would have gone back with a train of empties.
  14. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

    tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018) Passed Away February 11, 2018

    Mr Winters was silent as to the final destination of the aviation gas. My thought would be it was shipped to East Coast ports from St. Louis and then loaded on to tankers bound for Europe and the 8th Air Force. I do not believe Poteau had a refinery; the aviation gas came from refineries in places such as Port Arthur ,TX and other places.
  15. TAG1014 (Tom Galbraith RIP 7/15/2020)

    TAG1014 (Tom Galbraith RIP 7/15/2020) Passed Away July 15, 2020 Supporter

    I wouldn't rule out other railroads operating in the southwestern and southern oil fields who would have hauled oil and gasoline to both east and west (southern too) coast ports: MP, M-K-T, ATSF, SP/T&NO, CB&Q (FW&D). I'm sure every avenue available to get the job done was used.

    Tom G.
  16. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    What is so important for me, is how much the US railroads and my Grandpa did, to transport the goods the Frisco handled, that enabled the Allies to prevail in WWII. (Steam Locomotives) I mean, it was our industrial capabilities (at the time) and the ability to move it that supplied every front, whether in Europe or the Pacific or Middle East, that won that World War, and the one before it. Sure impressive to see, there is such grip on all the particular movements of the time. We have lost or given so much infrastructure up, that I wonder if it could be done again.
    Makes me sad and a little scared that so much of that "might" has went to shores we have no control over. Although lately it seems some stuff is coming back.
    Please carry on.|-||-|
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2014
  17. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

  18. fwober

    fwober Member

    I don't remember for sure, as I don't have a standard transportation commodity code book handy, but I did use to rate and put petroleum , crude oil in the computer for the MKT, and I don't remember it being a
    hazardous material.
    Michael Lowe
  19. Have you ever seen and Monsanto tank cars going through Kirkwood?

    If you do, get out of there fast. Elemental Phosphorus . BBBbbboooommm!!!

    Blame it on Ken
  20. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    Oh Dear.....:D

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