Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 23, 2015

Contact: Jared Margolis, (971) 717-6404 or

Report Predicting 10 Oil-train Derailments Per Year Underscores Need for
Immediate Moratorium on Crude-by-rail

Dangerous Trains Risk Hundreds of Deaths, $4 Billion in Damages Annually

PORTLAND, Ore.— A risk analysis by the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and creating the potential for hundreds of deaths from accidents in densely populated areas.

The revelation comes on the heels of a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity last week that detailed the broad range of risks posed to people and the environment from these rail accidents. The Center’s report, Runaway Risks: Oil Trains and the Government’s Failure to Protect People, Wildlife and the Environment, revealed that oil trains pass through 34 national wildlife refuges, critical habitat for 57 imperiled species and within a quarter-mile of 3,600 miles of rivers and streams, including the Columbia, Mississippi and Hudson. Furthermore, ForestEthics has calculated that some 25 million people live within the one-mile "evacuation zone" in the event of a fiery oil train derailment (

“Both the DOT study and our report underscore the need for an immediate moratorium on oil trains,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “It’s totally irresponsible for the government to allow these bomb trains to move through our communities when it’s fully aware that this will inevitably lead to many more accidents, like the devastation that recently occurred in West Virginia.” 

While the administrator for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has stated that the DOT analysis underscores the need for new regulations, the federal government has failed to provide adequate protection from the trains’ well-known risks. 

Moreover, the new regulations that have been proposed are inadequate, as they would allow for the continued use of unsafe tank cars and allow oil trains to routinely exceed safe weights and speeds. This was made clear by the recent oil-train disasters in Canada and West Virginia, where newer, supposedly safer tank cars punctured upon derailment, leading to explosions and fires that burned for several days.

“People, wildlife, rivers and lakes will pay a huge cost for the government’s ongoing failure to act,” said Margolis. “Regulators know it’s only a matter of time before the next explosive oil train accident. They need to act now to protect Americans and our environment.”

Some are using the latest news on oil-train hazards to argue that shipping oil through pipelines would be a safer option, but the reality is that pipelines too are far from safe. Since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 accidents involving pipelines (nearly 300 per year on average), resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage. 

“The reality is that there’s no way to safely transport highly volatile crude from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota or heavy crudes from the Alberta tar sands,” said Margolis. “Instead these fossil fuels should be left in the ground, both for our safety now and to avoid the impending climate catastrophe.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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