Ethanol Transloading Summary

Page updated on Oct 1, 2009 at 5:42 PM

Ethanol is essentially grain alcohol that has been produced from crops such as corn, wheat, and barley. Because it is domestically produced, it reduces our dependence on foreign fuel sources.  Naturally high-octane ethanol contains more oxygen, so it burns cleaner than gasoline and reduces carbon monoxide emissions. Most gasoline-powered vehicles can run on a blend consisting of gasoline and up to 10% ethanol.  

Ethanol cannot travel in pipelines along with gasoline, because it picks up excess water and impurities. As a result, it must be transported via trucks, trains or barges. Norfolk Southern ships liquid ethanol by rail car to its facility, where the material is transloaded (off-loaded by the railroad's contractor into tanker trucks) for final delivery to gasoline tank farms in Springfield and in Fairfax City. A perimeter fence surrounds the transloading facility and, according to Norfolk Southern, the active transloading track has the capacity to handle a maximum of 20 railroad tank cars. A contractor oversees the transfer of ethanol directly from the railcars into tanker trucks. 

While there are inherent risks associated with transloading ethanol, The City of Alexandria has undertaken a number of actions to mitigate the risks posed by the transloading operation. These actions include the provision of special training and equipment for the Fire Department to contain an ethanol fire and the development of an evacuation plan in the unlikely event that there is an incident at the facility.

The City of Alexandria and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have each conducted security/threat assessments of the facility. The findings of the DHS assessment affirm those of the City's assessment; and concludes that the facility represents a low threat to the City.

The City will continue to keep the public informed about the operation, and will continue its efforts to cease ethanol transloading operations in the City. Details about the City’s specific actions and Norfolk Southern’s responses are contained in correspondence, action updates, and in other documents linked below.