Let's play the math in figuring out how much oil it would take to make a seven-hundred mile run with thirty boxcars and a stop every twenty-five miles.
Modern diesel engines have a peak fuel efficiency of approximately 0.4 pounds of fuel per horsepower hour. For example, a 300 horse-power Cummins diesel engine uses approximately 17 gallons of #2 diesel per hour.
The weight of an empty boxcar is approximately 60,000 pounds. Assume a smoldering economy like in the Quest story would half fill it...that is, another 60,000 in cargo.
It takes 1.25 horsepower-hours to accelerate that 120,000 pounds to 25 miles per hour which is probably a reasonable maximum speed before large amounts of time have been invested in bringing the tracks back up to snuff.
Assuming 30 boxcars, then it takes about 40 horsepower-hours to accelerate the entire string to 25mph.
Waving our hands to make inefficiencies disappear, the locomotive must put out eight minutes of 300 horse-power to bring the train up to speed and will consume 2.3 gallons of diesel while doing so.
Since there are roughly 28 stops along the way, there will be 54 "starts" or about 120 gallons of fuel used to overcome the inertia of the train for a round trip.
This is where we throw a fudge-factor at the inefficiencies we blithely ignored. Double the 120 gallons to an even 250 gallons of diesel for a round trip.
Mid-Western oil production
Looking at just the oil production in Indiana:
Let's make some crude assumptions. Let's assume they can get 5% of production back on-line and let's assume they can separate 20% into products by simple fraction distillation. That pencils out to 600,000 gallons of "diesel" fuel a year. Running our tiny railroad two round-trips a month would use 6,000 gallons of fuel or 1% of our calculated production capacity.
Freight versus personal transportation
The states of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa have a combined population of approximately 35 million. In a typical year, they use about 5 billion gallons of gasoline for personal transportation.
Our 6,000 gallons per year divided by the current usage of 5 BILLION is one part in 830,000.
So the assumption "There will be no oil" is true for current consumption habits involving use of 4000 pound vehicles driven 10,000 per year in a post-Ebola economy.
That same assumption is probably false if the consumption habits shifted to very minimal use for freight carried by steel wheels on steel rails AND some of the currently producing wells can be restarted. Local production would not be stressed to produce 6,000 gallons of diesel a year. Remember, we only looked at Indiana production and we only assumed 5% would be reactivated.
The thoughts of those in the petroleum industry will be much appreciated. Aggie...that might be you.