Frac Sand Supplier Launches Unit Train To Serve Marcellus Shale Development

Frac sand and proppant company Preferred Sands has launched a unit train service between its Genoa, Neb., silica sand mine and a 14,000-ton storage facility in McKees Rocks, Pa., in collaboration with its strategic partner McKees Rocks Industrial Enterprises, Inc., to serve ongoing development of the Marcellus Shale resources and other projects as well.

The initial train in the rail service completed its first trip on November 1, 2011, delivering approximately 10,000 tons of finished, dry processed sand to the McKees Rocks facility. It was shipped via the Nebraska Central Railroad Company, which serves Preferred Sands' Genoa location, and then routed via the Union Pacific Railroad, Norfolk Southern Railway, Pittsburgh & Ohio Central Railroad, and McKees Rocks Railroad. Total transit time, including unloading and well delivery, was less than 4 days, which is significantly less than the average of 8-9 days for regular manifest train service.

The next run of the unit train is planned for late January, and the Radnor, Pa.-based company aims to establish monthly service on the route going forward, depending on demand. Preferred Sands also plans to run monthly unit trains from its five sand plants to other storage facilities in both Canada and the United States. Overall, the company expects to complete 50-55,000 rail car shipments in 2012.

"Our unit train will benefit our Northeast customers by delivering sand in record time while also delivering cost efficiencies," said Preferred Sands CEO & founder Michael O'Neill in the company's announcement. "By streamlining the train to carry just sand freight, we are able to cut down on demurrage costs and expedite the shipping process."

Preferred Sands has a fleet of more than 4,000 covered hopper cars, and each railcar in its fleet is named after someone in the Preferred Sands "family": employees, family members, customers, friends, and so on. Company-owned cars in the unit train service are part of this naming program. The company said it is constantly adding to its fleet, but the efficiency derived from unit train service should partially offset its need for new cars.