And that helps producers get the best price for their crude oil, which tends to be in coastal ports and overseas markets where the Brent price of oil is the standard instead of the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate, which currently sells at a $20- to $25-per-barrel discount compared to Brent. Because pipelines can't access many of those same markets, producers in the recent oil hot spots of the Bakken Field in North Dakota and the Alberta oil sands in Canada are seeing rail transport as an increasingly attractive transport option, Cairns says.
That advantage might be temporary as more pipeline infrastructure is built, but for now CN, BNSF, and other rail companies are ramping up efforts to capitalize on the inexorable force that is becoming the North American oil and gas markets.
"We have a lot of irons in the fire," Cairns says. "We're trying to create a rail solution to bring product down to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It's an ongoing effort."
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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.