Oil Trains And California schools: Methodology

Methodology for making the map

We constructed the map of public and private schools within a half-mile and one mile of oil train routes in California using the following data sets and methodology.

Oil train routes
Information on rail routes used by oil trains is difficult to obtain because U.S. federal regulators have not required the rail industry to make this data publicly available. To obtain reliable data on oil train routes, we used the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Office of Hazardous Materials Safety database of hazardous materials incidents, which provides information on train accidents in the U.S. involving trains carrying petroleum crude oil and other hazardous materials. The database provides comprehensive information, including the origin city and destination city of the train route, accident location, accident date, carrier identity (e.g., Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Union Pacific), and the hazardous material being carried, which allowed us to document recent oil train routes in California. We supplemented the information in the PHMSA database with news reports confirming oil train activity on specific routes in California. The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Transportation Atlas Database was used to determine the locations of the rail lines based on railroad owner. Oil train routes that were confirmed as active during the period beginning in 2014 to present were included in the map. Information on the sources for oil train routes is available upon request.

School data
We obtained data on schools in California from U.S. Department of Education databases of public and private schools nationwide. These databases provide enrollment figures and school locations for public schools from 2009 to 2010 and for private schools from 2011 to 2012. We removed schools that were designated as “closed” in these databases.

Evacuation and impact zones: half-mile and one mile distances from oil train routes
We identified schools within a half-mile and one mile of oil train routes since these distances encompass the potential evacuation and impact zones for oil train accidents.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issues guidance for first responders and other safety personnel on responding to train accidents involving hazardous materials in its Emergency Response Guidebook. For accidents involving trains carrying petroleum crude oil and petroleum sour crude oil, the agency recommends an initial evacuation of a half-mile (800 meters) in all directions from the accident site for a single tanker car on fire. This half-mile recommendation is only the initial response for a single car accident.

A one-mile or more evacuation zone can result when there are explosions and fires involving multiple tanker cars that can produce extensive plumes of toxic fumes, smoke, particulate matter and heat at significant distances from burning oil tankers. For example, a one-mile evacuation zone was ordered during the February 2015 oil train accident near Mount Carbon, W.V., in which a 109-car oil train derailed, resulting in multiple-car explosions and fires.  A much larger, five-mile evacuation zone was recommended during the December 2013 oil train derailment near Casselton, N.D., in which explosions and intense fires from multiple cars produced huge clouds of flames and smoke.

In documenting schools at risk from oil train accidents, we included schools within the half-mile initial evacuation zone of an oil train route, as well as those within a one-mile potential impact area in the event of a major oil train accident. We recognize that while these schools are the most likely to be affected in the event of an oil train spill, fire or explosion, a wider area could be affected in specific conditions or severe instances.

Oil train accidents resulting in multiple car explosions and fires have increased in recent years with the dramatic rise in crude oil transport by rail. Since 2013 there have been at least 36 major oil train accidents in the United States and Canada that have caused derailments, fires, large oil spills, or been classified as “serious incidents” by PHMSA.  Eleven of these resulted in explosions and fires involving multiple train cars, and eight of those had an evacuation zone of one mile or more. The oil train accidents in the United States since 2013 resulting in fires of multiple train cars include:

— May 6, 2015: A 109-car BNSF oil train hauling Bakken crude oil derailed and caught fire near Heimdal, N.D., blackening the sky, forcing the evacuation of Heimdal residents, and spilling an estimated 60,000 gallons of oil near a wetlands area.
— March 5, 2015: A 105-car BNSF oil train hauling Bakken crude oil derailed and caught fire outside of Galena, Ill., near the Mississippi River, sending columns of dark smoke and fireballs hundreds of feet into the air.
— Feb. 16, 2015: A 109-car CSX oil train derailed and caught fire near Mount Carbon, W.V., spewing an estimated 362,000 gallons of oil into the Kanawha River, setting a house ablaze, forcing the evacuation of two nearby communities and threatening municipal drinking water supplies.
— April 30, 2014: A CSX oil train derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va., near a pedestrian waterfront, sending flames and black smoke into the air, spilling nearly 30,000 gallons into the James River, and forcing the evacuation of more than 300 residents.
— Dec. 30, 2013: A 106-car BNSF oil train transporting Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., spilling an estimated 470,000 gallons of crude oil and prompting the evacuation of more than 2,000 residents within five miles of the accident.
— Nov. 7, 2013: A 90-car Genesee & Wyoming oil train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded near Aliceville, Ala., spilling an estimated 749,000 gallons of crude oil into a surrounding wetland.

The most destructive oil train accident to date was the derailment in Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada, in July 2013 that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, spilled an estimated 1.6 million gallons of oil and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. The 23 major oil train accidents in the U.S. since 2013 are listed in the table below.

 

Accident Date

Accident Location

Accident Description

Carrier Name

7/16/2015

Culbertson, MT

derailment, spill

BNSF Railway Company

5/6/2015

Heimdal, ND

derailment, fire, spill

BNSF Railway Company

3/5/2015

Galena, IL

derailment, fire, spill

BNSF Railway Company

3/1/2015

New Orleans, LA

derailment

New Orleans Public Belt Railway

2/16/2015

Mount Carbon, WV

derailment, fire, spill

CSX Transportation INC

1/31/2015

Philadelphia, PA

derailment

CSX Transportation INC

11/5/2014

Blaine, WA

spill

BNSF Railway Company

10/20/2014

Glenrock, WY

spill

BNSF Railway Company

6/7/2014

McKeesport, PA

derailment

CSX Transportation INC

6/4/2014

Barstow, CA

spill

BNSF Railway Company

5/9/2014

LaSalle, CO

derailment, spill 

Union Pacific Railway Company

4/30/2014

Lynchburg, VA

derailment, fire, spill

CSX Transportation INC

2/13/2014

Vandergrift, PA

derailment, spill

Norfolk Southern Railway

2/3/2014

Portage, WI

spill

SOO Line Corporation

1/31/2014

New Augusta, MS

derailment, spill

Canadian National Railway CO

1/20/2014

Philadelphia, PA

derailment

CSX Transportation INC

12/30/2013

Casselton, ND

derailment, fire, spill

BNSF Railway Company

12/10/2013

Cheektowaga, NY

derailment

CSX Transportation INC

11/7/2013

Aliceville, AL

derailment, fire, spill

Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway LLC

10/21/2013

Smithboro, IL

derailment, spill 

CSX Transportation INC

9/5/2013

Brantford, ND

spill 

BNSF Railway Company

4/17/2013

Caledonia, MS

spill

BNSF Railway Company

3/27/2013

Parkers Prairie, MN

derailment, spill

SOO Line Corporation


Learn more about the Center's work on oil trains.

Oil train photo courtesy Flickr/Pembina Insitute