Key Takeaways

  • Railroads are the safest way to transport hazardous materials and are essential for moving the chemicals that produce fertilizers.
  • In 2016, U.S. Class I railroads moved 330,000 carloads of agriculture chemicals (1.19% of total carloads), carrying 31.2 million tons (2.08% of total tons) and earning gross revenue of $1.3 billion (1.98% of total revenue).

Railroads are crucial to nearly every aspect of agriculture, including the movement of products essential to farming, such as finished farming equipment and agricultural chemicals.

Railroads move large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, potassium compounds, and urea. They also carry millions of tons of raw materials used to produce fertilizer each year, including phosphate rock, crude potash, and sulfur.

Enhancing Safety

Railroads are the safest and most efficient way to transport fertilizer, a subset of chemicals that are sometimes classified as hazardous. One rail tank car of anhydrous ammonia, for example, carries the equivalent of around four tanker trucks and enough to produce approximately 128,000 bushels of corn.

Railroads devote enormous resources to safe operations no matter what they haul, but the transportation of chemicals often requires special managing, at which railroads excel. Today, more than 99.999% of rail hazmat shipments by rail reach their destination without incident.

The Effect of International Trade

While railroads and farmers once served as the link between rural communities and urban centers, the two industries now link America to much of the world — particularly Canada and Mexico. One in every 10 planted acres feeds people of these countries.

The connection between railroads and agriculture is exemplified by the ability to link fertilizers to farmers and foods to producers. Tank cars going from Canada to Florida move raw goods for input into chemical manufacturing that help create agricultural fertilizers. Those materials will then move by railroads to the U.S. heartland, helping America’s farmers generate yields. Their food products will then go by rail to ports for sale on the global market. A dinner in Mexico is made possible, in part, by train cars that started in Canada. And much of this occurs across borders, tariff free. Continued economic gains for both industries, however, hinge on policies that encourage such movements.