The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Valerie Love, (510) 274-9713,

Analysis: 1 Million California Students Attend School in 1-Mile Impact Zone for Derailing Oil Trains

Fiery Derailments, Spills Increasing Dramatically Nationwide With Surge in Oil-by-rail Traffic


More than 1 million California children attend school within a one-mile evacuation zone of railroads used by oil trains, according to a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Oil trains have experienced a dramatic increase in explosions and derailments across the country in recent years.

The investigation identifies more than 2,300 elementary, middle and high schools in 29 counties located within a mile of confirmed oil train routes in California. (See an interactive map of oil train routes and California schools here).

The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends an initial evacuation zone of a half-mile in all directions for a single tanker car on fire. But a one-mile or more evacuation zone can result when multiple tanker cars explode or catch fire and produce extensive plumes of toxic fumes, particulate matter and heat at significant distances.

Since 2013 there have been 11 oil train accidents in the United States and Canada resulting in explosions and fires involving multiple train cars -- and at least eight have required an evacuation zone of one mile or more.

"Railroad disasters shouldn't be one of the 'three Rs' on the minds of California school kids and their parents," said Valerie Love with the Center. "Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don't belong anywhere near California's schools or our children."

The analysis released today uses oil train routes identified through government documents and media reports and the latest data available from U.S. Department of Education (2009-2010 for public schools and 2011-2012 for private schools) to map elementary, middle and high schools along the routes and calculate the number of students.

Nationwide, derailments and explosions of oil trains have increased dramatically following a 40-fold increase in oil-by-rail between 2008 and 2013, including at least five fiery derailments in the United States and Canada so far this year and a record number of oil-by-rail spills in 2014.

The Center's investigation confirmed oil train routes throughout California, including in densely populated cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento and Richmond, as well as suburbs and rural areas. Additional oil train routes have been proposed, including in San Jose and Oakland.

"As educators we care deeply about the safety of our students and we certainly don't want dangerous trains full of explosive crude oil rolling by our classrooms," said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association. "The proximity of these oil trains puts our students and teachers in harm's way if one goes off the rails, and that's just not a risk we're willing to take."

Among the findings from today's mapping analysis:

  • More than 1 million (approximately 1,178,000) California students attend school within a mile of confirmed oil train routes;
  • Of those, roughly 521,000 go to school within a half-mile of oil train routes, the area that federal officials say should be initially evacuated in all directions in case of a single tanker on fire;
  • Another 226,000 attend school within a mile of proposed oil train routes.

Oil-by-rail transport has increased from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 500,000 rail cars in 2014, with billions of gallons of oil passing through towns and cities ill-equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring.

The worst wreck was one in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 47 people and burned down a large portion of the town's business district. Fiery derailments this year have already happened in West Virginia, Illinois, North Dakota and Ontario.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252