About 350 New York state schools, including at least 63 in Monroe County, lie within a mile of railroad tracks used by trains carrying volatile crude oil, a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups said Thursday.
The groups urged state and federal official to bolster emergency planning at those educational facilities and to require crude-oil trains to travel more slowly near schools.
“We are deeply concerned about the growing number of crude oil rail cars passing through the Hudson Valley and across New York State every day,” said Claire Barnett, executive director of the Albany-based Healthy Schools Network. “A catastrophic event, should it happen near an occupied school, could devastate a community for a generation or more.”
The good news locally is that districts in Monroe County near CSX Transportation’s two freight-rail corridors say they have emergency plans in place and are prepared to shelter or evacuate in the event that became necessary.
“I’m impressed with what our county schools are doing – on paper. I really am. It sounds fantastic,” said Judy Braiman of Empire State Consumer Project, one of several groups that helped with the report released Thursday.
School officials told Braiman they had fully developed emergency-evacuation plans, and staff in the affected schools were tutored in those plans. Braiman said, though, she could not be sure if that was true of every school. “My only question is, did it get down to the level of the teachers, the parents and the children?” she said.
Rail shipment of crude oil has become a hot-button topic around the country since a surge in shipments from shale-oil fields in the northern Plains. CSX has said 20 to 35 oil trains traverse upstate New York each week, headed for Albany and from there to East Coast refineries.
The shipments raise concern because this particular crude oil is highly volatile. Several oil trains have derailed and caught fire; most tragically, a train rolled downhill out of control and derailed in Lac-Megantic in July 2013, exploding into a huge conflagration that killed 47 people and destroyed several blocks of the small Canadian city’s downtown.
Federal officials say locations within a half-mile of a derailment site should be prepared to evacuate in event of a serious accident, and everyone within a mile could be in danger.
Twenty-six of the 63 Monroe County schools noted by the environment groups are within a half-mile of the tracks, according to data the groups released. Included were schools in the Churchville-Chili, Gates-Chili, Rochester, Penfield, Pittsford, East Rochester and Fairport districts. Several religious-affiliated and charter schools were included as well.
All 63 Monroe schools noted by the groups are near the CSX mainline tracks that run through the city of Rochester and adjoining suburbs. As the Democrat and Chronicle has reported, however, there is evidence that CSX prefers to route oil trains on a separate track that runs through Monroe County’s southern suburbs.
At least four schools located near those tracks are omitted from group’s list and maps, though Braiman said she did contact districts in which those schools are located.