Crude oil and petroleum products accounted for more than 30 percent of rail deliveries last year, up more than 25 percent from their 2009 levels, the department's Energy Information Administration states.
Oil production from the lucrative Bakken play in the Northern Plains is exceeding regional pipeline capacity, prompting energy companies to turn to rail to deliver petroleum to refineries. The EIA states that, usually, 90 percent of crude oil and petroleum products are delivered by pipeline.
The Association of American Railroads reports the shipment of petroleum products during the last week of January was 56 percent higher than the same time last year. The petroleum industry was responsible for most of the growth in rail traffic last year.
For coal, the EIA states that coal deliveries by rail for 2012 declined 11 percent year-on-year. About 70 percent of the coal delivered to U.S. power plants is carried by rail, though more use of natural gas has crimped that delivery volume.
"Notwithstanding these changes, coal remained by far the dominant category of carload shipments, accounting for 41 percent of total carloads, compared to a 4 percent share for all petroleum and petroleum products combined," the EIA stated.