CSXT, Transflo initiate new LPG service with special intermodal transloading unit

Dec. 1, 2003
NOT long ago, CSX Transportation (CSXT), Jacksonville, Florida, and its sister company, Transflo Terminal Services Inc, recognized that transferring liquified

NOT long ago, CSX Transportation (CSXT), Jacksonville, Florida, and its sister company, Transflo Terminal Services Inc, recognized that transferring liquified petroleum gas (LPG) from railcars to tank trailers could be a cumbersome process that limited growth opportunities for rail carriers.

At that time, propane was transferred from railcar to intermediate storage tank before being transferred to a tank truck or bobtail for delivery. CSXT and Transflo managers decided a different approach was needed. Ultimately, they developed BTU Rail Direct.

“The equipment provided in the BTU Rail Direct service allows product transfer directly between rail and truck,” says John Woodcock, CSXT chemicals market development manager. “This eliminates the need for a fixed plant, and allows LPG marketers the ability to expand to new markets without direct capital investment.”

Design team

After seeing that there was a need for new equipment to improve LPG transloading, the joint CSXT/Transflo team put their heads together with designers at Superior Energy Systems in Cleveland, Ohio, who eventually assembled the mobile unit.

The result was a wheeled mobile platform built by Rail Barge and Truck Services Inc to hold transfer components, including a Scully Groundhog proof-positive grounding system, OPW sight-flow indicator, and Corken compressor.

Superior Energy Systems incorporated into the design safety systems that include truck and railcar grounding that shuts down transfers if interrupted, a remote-stop located 50 feet from unit, and zero-clearance breakaways.

Valves have a positive pressure pneumatic control system (using nitrogen). In the event of pressure loss, all the valves automatically close. Plastic tubing on this system is used so that in the event of a fire, the tubes will melt, causing pressure loss and shutdown.

The equipment uses a pressure-differential system to transfer product at a maximum rate of 350 gallons per minute. A 10,000-gallon tank trailer normally can be loaded in 45-60 minutes, depending on product temperature and internal car pressure. A unit typically transloads three railcars, or about 10 tank trucks in a day.

One Transflo operator is assigned to the unit to complete railcar connections and oversee the product transfer. Transport drivers are typically responsible for hose connections.

“We designed the unit to enhance customer flexibility and market responsiveness,” says Chris Swartz, Transflo commercial director. “The service is offered to CSXT customers at select Transflo sites within its 23-state network in the eastern United States. Commercial efforts initially have focused on the propane and butane markets.”

Four locations

The units are in use at facilities in North Haven, Connecticut; Hagerstown, Maryland; Butler, Pennsylvania; and Syracuse, New York.

“These locations handle a variety of commodities and range in size from 20 to 250 railcar spots,” Swartz says. “Each facility is manned, lighted, and fenced. All terminals are equipped with truck scales.”

Since CSXT does not store LPG at the terminals, outbound trucks normally deliver directly to propane distributors' sites within 75 miles of the terminal.

Product is shipped into the terminals from various parts of the United States and Canada, primarily in the winter heating season. Principal sources include large fractionators (refineries that strip propane from natural gas) in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, and East Morris, Illinois; and storage terminals in Marysville and St Clair, Michigan; Mont Belvieu, Texas, and areas in western Canada.

As for future development, CSXT efforts will continue to focus on the propane and butane markets. The service is designed to increase rail movements of LPG, but not to compete with traditional rail destinations.

The company is continuing to evaluate transfer applications with products that share similar handling characteristics as LPG. Anhydrous ammonia trials were successfully conducted last year with a unit that was modified to handle the product.

“We are also exploring opportunities for products such as propylene and refrigerants,” Woodcock adds.