The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday confirmed what many trainspotters have observed: Movements of crude oil by rail within the United States for the first five months this year are down 45 percent from last year.

An average of 443,000 barrels of crude moved by rail during the first five months of this year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nearly half of the crude carried by rail in May moved from the Midwest to East Coast refineries, which have increased their reliance upon petroleum imports.

With the worlwide fall in oil prices, the price of domestic crude oil produced in the Midwest and western Texas is no longer heavily discounted relative to imported crude. The narrower the spread between domestic and imported crude, the more likely coastal refiners will choose to run imported crudes rather than domestic supplies shipped by rail, EIA said.

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