“For as far as the eye can see, tanker cars sit idly on the east-west railroad tracks adjacent to Payeur Road (near State),” Dale Leslie wrote in an email to the Observer’s Question Corner (see p. 22). “The Pittsfield Township Hall has no explanation. Maybe the Observer can learn the nature of these tanker cars before they go boom!”

Some tankers laden with volatile crude from the Bakken Shale oil formation in North Dakota have indeed gone boom, most tragically when a runaway train killed forty-seven people in Quebec in 2013. Regulators responded with rules designed to reduce leaks when trains derail, and manufacturers rushed to make new, safer cars.

Then came the oil price collapse. U.S. production peaked in April as companies pulled back on drilling; less oil being pumped means less need to haul it.

The cars on the Ann Arbor Railroad track off State Rd. are no threat–they’re not only empty, 130 of them have never been used. “The idleness is indeed related to the slowdown with the Bakken crude and other shale plays as well,” emails a representative for Kansas-based Watco, which bought the AARR in 2013. “They’ll begin to move once the market begins to pick back up.”