Four Million Californians at Risk from Oil Train Danger Zones

New Maps Detail Proximity of Schools and Homes to Crude Oil Train Routes

SAN FRANCISCO (June 18, 2014) – A series of detailed crude oil rail route maps, released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), show nearly four million Bay Area and Central/San Joaquin Valley residents are at risk should an accident occur. As the State experiences a proliferation of new crude by rail terminal proposals this year, these findings provide information about how many people and schools are located in the vicinity of hazardous crude oil rail routes.

“California has seen a dramatic increase of crude by rail, from 45,000 barrels in 2009 to six million barrels in 2013.  That’s a stunning 100 fold spike without the safety measures or emergency response infrastructure to support it,” said Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With all of the accidents we have seen over the past year, these mile-long trains put too many people and schools in harm’s way.  We need local officials to put all the new projects on hold until we can ensure that public safety won’t be sacrificed.”

Each of the seven maps identifies populations and schools, by community, within the half-mile federal evacuation zone for crude oil tanker train accidents and the one-mile recommended isolation zone for accidents where fires ensue. Findings include:

  • Sacramento: 256,000 residents and over 175 schools lie within the one-mile evacuation zone
  • Richmond: 76,000 residents and over 60 schools lie within the one-mile evacuation zone
  • Bakersfield: 167,000 residents and over 75 schools lie within the one-mile evacuation zone

Aging equipment, high speeds and a failure of transparency have been identified as primary safety concerns associated with the increase in crude by rail.  Most of the rail cars are older “DOT-111” models, which have long been proven unsafe, confirmed by the string of six fiery accidents involving crude oil over the past year. Four years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended significant safety improvements to these tank cars, yet two-thirds of tank cars in service still do not meet modern safety standards. While the law now requires disclosure of information to emergency responders, the general public remains unaware of what’s being transported in the mile-long trains running through their towns.

 “We don’t have a choice – or even the information – about what gets transported through our community, how dangerous the cargo is, how frequently it comes through or whether it could be rerouted to more remote areas,” said Marilyn Bardet of Benicians for Healthy and Safe Communities. “We should have the right to know, to evaluate the risks and make local decisions about our safety.”

California has five major new crude by rail terminals in the planning stages that, along with two recently converted terminals, could collectively add up to seven or more mile-long trains running through metropolitan areas every day. And while the state continues to move in the direction of clean renewable energy, community advocates are questioning whether it makes sense to build new crude oil infrastructure and calling on lawmakers to ensure basic safety standards for transporting dangerous fossil fuels.

“The rail infrastructure is outdated, overloaded and dangerously close to homes and schools. In our town, some homes are only feet away from the rail lines,” said Kalli Graham of the Pittsburg Defense Council. “A rail accident would take out the heart of Pittsburg and the loss in property would be devastating. But what is even more horrific would be the loss of lives. Decision makers should know we are more than collateral damage. We are people who don’t want to die because it is just the cost of doing business.”

The maps are viewable at:

Contacts for individual communities are listed below.


Related Press Releases