Parked Oil Trains in Berks County, PA

Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology
Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement

The Risks of Crude Oil Trains

As new oil fields boomed across North America in recent years, drillers looked for ways to get the product to refineries thousands of miles away. One solution was to use the nation’s rail infrastructure to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day. The flow of oil was so great that thousands of additional tanker cars were ordered to get the oil to market. And yet, this solution of transporting crude by rail brought additional problems. Shipping large quantities of highly volatile and combustible crude oil on often antiquated rail lines has resulted in numerous accidents, at times spectacular in scale. In recent months, however, thousands of these oil tankers have been sitting idle on the tracks around the country, partially due to dropping oil prices, leading refineries to opt for cheaper imported oil and less expensive ways to get the domestic product to market such as through pipelines.

Communities Along the Tracks

The interactive story map below investigates a stretch of oil trains that have been parked for months in close proximity to homes, schools, and busy intersections in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Altogether, 30,494 people live in the seven communities through which the tracks in question pass. We began this project in response to concerns from residents who contacted FracTracker for assistance in understanding why these trains were located in their community, what hazards they might pose, and to help people bring this story to the public to foster meaningful discussions about the risks of parked oil trains.


FracTracker has covered the risks of oil trains in a series of other articles. Click here to learn more.

9 replies
  1. jeff embry
    jeff embry says:

    One more thing. When you see a crude train parked for months it is because it is an EMPTY TRAIN !!!!!!

    • Kirk Jalbert
      Kirk Jalbert says:

      Hi Jeff. Thank you for your comment. As we noted in the article, based on the lack of transparency on the part of crude by rail carriers we simply don’t know if these are full or empty cars. However, as the RTA official told us, if the 1267 placard is still showing on the tanker it means they either contain oil, or have not been cleaned and contain residual oil. Our position is that if the public is not allowed to know the transit of crude by rail due to security risks, then how is this not also considered an unsafe practice. The public deserves to know what the status is of oil trains parked in their community given the known risks of crude oil tankers. Furthermore, we would not have written the piece if were weren’t first contacted by concerned residents living in Berks County. All that being said, I’m not sure what exactly your complaints are about the article or how it is written in an unbalanced way.

  2. jeff embry
    jeff embry says:

    This is misleading as all get out and is obviously written by a pipeline advocate . Trains with hazardous materials have been travelling these routes

  3. Dale
    Dale says:

    You failed to point out, in your well balanced (not) article that not a single life has been lost in tank train derailments in the USA since the railroads began hauling the crude oil.

    • Matt Kelso
      Matt Kelso says:

      Thank you for your comment. We did mention that of the nine explosions in a two year period, the only fatal incident was when 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.
      IF you aren’t sold on the risk of the practice of shipping Bakken crude oil by rail, that is certainly your prerogative, but for the undecided, I present this video of a tank car exploding in Casselton, North Dakota that was recorded in December 2013.

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