Maps show oil trains close to schools

Times Union | August 6, 2014 | Column by Brian Nearing

Groups want more stringent and thorough environmental analysis

Roger Downs, Sierra Club conservation director, speaks about oil trains proximity to schools during a news conference on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)


New mapping by health and environmental groups concerned over a spike in crude oil train traffic shows that 75 schools in eastern New York are within a mile of rail lines carrying such trains.

Unveiled Wednesday at the state Capitol, the online maps by Healthy Schools Network Inc. and the Natural Resources Defense Councilshow that "uncontrolled expansion of crude-by-rail threatens our communities," said Jon Krois, NRDC project attorney.

The maps show rail corridors in both the Capital Region and along Lake Champlain used by crude trains. Thirty-five schools are within a half-mile of the rail tracks, according to the maps.

"We are releasing these maps as part of our call for a more thorough and stringent environmental and health analysis," said Claire Barnett, network executive director. "A catastrophic event, should it happen near an occupied school, could devastate a community for a generation or more."

Several political leaders and environmental groups endorsed the maps, although there was some minor discord over whether responsibility rests with the state or federal government to ensure such trains are operated safely.

"At the state level, we continue to advocate and work with our government partners, particularly at the federal level where most jurisdictional oversight is, to ensure the safest rail transport processes are in place," said Assemblyman John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat who represents the Port of Albany, the ultimate destination of oil trains hauling crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, said while "Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo has appropriately applied pressure on federal agencies to significantly strengthen regulations and oversight for crude oil transport by rail ... that does not mean New York should abdicate responsibility where the state has clear jurisdiction to regulate unsafe activities."

Currently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing expansion plans by Global Partners, which operates an oil terminal at the port, and has extended the public comment period for the fifth time.

The company is seeking permission to build a facility to heat crude oil. Opponents fear that facility would be used to process Canadian tar sands oil, a thicker type of crude that thickens in cold weather, making it difficult to pump out of rail tankers and into tanks for eventual transfer to barges and tankers that go down the Hudson River.

McDonald said he felt that showed DEC is "working toward a very thorough review ... DEC is getting more comments than they ever expected."

[email protected] • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

On the Web

Links to online maps showing the proximity of schools in the Capital Region and Lake Champlain to rail lines used by trains hauling explosive crude oil are avaiable at and

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@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2014-08-08 14:28:01 -0400
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.