by Jeff Smith
Saw this interesting article in the WSJ today: wsj.com Subscr. may be Req'd
Boom Times for a Tiny Texas Town
BARNHART, Texas—It was a railroad that brought this tiny town into existence in 1910, when it was named after the stationmaster, William F. Barnhart. Today that same railroad is putting the town on the map again—as an unlikely hub of the new American oil boom.
The turn in fortunes has been especially dramatic for the 113-year-old South Orient Railroad, which passes through Barnhart on its nearly 400-mile trek from Presidio on the Mexican border to a junction north of San Angelo, Texas.
Traffic on the railroad, which had been on the verge of extinction several times in the past century, has tripled in the past five years, to more than 10,000 rail cars a year, and is on pace to double in 2013. That is because the millions of pounds of fracking sand coming into this region—and a fairly large portion of the crude oil exiting it—are now riding its rails.
The South Orient is unusual for its ownership—it belongs to the state of Texas—and its history. The first West Texas oil boom began with a gusher a couple hundred feet from the tracks. The railroad was nearly erased from maps in the 1990s, when its operator at the time filed paperwork with the federal government to sell the metal rails for scrap. The company argued there was too little traffic to invest in needed upgrades, including replacing steel rails on a 150-mile stretch that dated from the 1910s.