You might use propane every day, but did you ever stop to wonder how that propane gets to your door?
If you're a customer of Lakes Gas Co, you probably know your delivery guy, but there's a lot that happens behind the scenes in getting propane gas from the terminal to our plant locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and South Dakota.
Propane is primarily shipped via pipeline, but it is also frequently transported in liquid form through the use of tanker trucks and rail cars.
Let's take a look at rail transportation. Rail Transportation is the safest way to transport propane since the risk of collision on rail is far less than that of a tanker truck on a highway. Let's take a look at why:
Propane transportation involves special measures to prevent leaks or other hazards. According to the Propane Education and Research Council, everything from the tank car design to the color of the tanks to the lettering on them helps ensure safe transportation of propane.
Cylindrical propane tank are built for safety and undergo rigorous testing. They're protected by thick steel at each end to prevent punctures. They're also equipped with thermal protection in the event of a fire.
Recently, even more safety features have been added. In 2011, The Association of American Railroads adopted guidelines including thicker tank shells and additional protection for the top fittings and the ends of each propane tank to decrease the chance of punctures.
Color and Plate Markings
You may have noticed white and black tanks on tracks when you're stopped at a railroad crossing. Tanks of both colors carry propane. You know not to paint your personal tank any color but white, as it could absorb more heat from the sun possibly causing excessive pressure to build-up inside the tank, so why isn't this an issue with black rail cars that transport propane?
Since propane is shipped in liquid form, there's no chance it will heat up and expand, as gas does. The colors are designed as a code for HazMat teams in the event of an accident. White cars signify thermal insulation and black cars signify a jacketed tank car. Knowing the kind of tank car helps HazMat teams know how to respond in the case of an emergency.
Each propane tank has a plate attached to it marked with a series of letters. These letters may look random, but they let the HazMat teams know the features of the tank such as pressure and capacity.
Fill-up and Delivery
Each tank car contains a valve opening, located at the top of the tank car. These openings are where propane is loaded and unloaded from the tank. The valves are protected by a dome to prevent damage or tampering.
Railroad cars are loaded and unloaded at stations called risers at the plant. These risers are equipped with platforms and ladders so hoses can be connected to the valves for unloading the propane. Each riser has connections for liquid and vapor hoses. The hoses connect to piping that transfer the propane to the bulk storage tanks at the plant.
At the propane distribution center, a compressor takes propane vapor from the bulk plant tank and forces it into a designated vapor space of the tank car. The vapor pushes the propane liquid through its valves and plant piping to be stored back in the bulk storage tank at the plant.
When all the liquid propane is removed, there is still propane vapor left in the tank. The compressor is used to turn this vapor into liquid propane so it can be easily transferred to the bulk tank.
Then, it is transferred to a delivery vehicle called a bobtail so it can be delivered to your home in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, or any other Lakes Gas service area.
So now you know the journey your propane takes before you use it to heat your home. Next time you fire up the grill or crank up the heat, you'll know it might not have been possible without railroads.