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Population Near Railroads in Allegheny County, PA

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology

In a joint project with PennEnvironment earlier this month, we analyzed the number of people who live within a half-mile of active rail lines in Pennsylvania and are therefore potentially at risk of an oil train explosion similar to the recent ones in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec; Lynchburg, Virginia; and Mount Carbon, West Virginia. To take that project one step further, we have taken a closer look at the population near railroads in Allegheny County, the second most populous county in PA with over 1.2 million inhabitants. Of the various figures, we found that Pittsburgh has over 183,000 people that live with half-mile mile of an active rail line.

In Philadelphia, the city’s boundary takes up the entire county of the same name, but in Allegheny County, the municipal boundaries are considerably more fractured. In fact, Pittsburgh is just one of 130 municipalities in Allegheny County; its 305,704 inhabitants represent just 25% of the residents in the county, and 13% of the metropolitan area. For the sake of simplicity, residents from the various cities, boroughs, and townships in the county will often say they are from Pittsburgh when speaking with people from outside the region, although they might actually live in Blawnox, McKees Rocks, or Swissvale, for example.


Estimated population within a half-mile of active rail lines in Allegheny County, PA. Click here to access the legend and other map tools.

Here is a list of the top ten municipalities with the largest estimated population in the at-risk zone:

Municipalities in Allegheny County with the largest estimated population within a half-mile of railroads.

Municipalities in Allegheny County with the largest estimated population within a half-mile of railroads.

Not surprisingly, the most at-risk municipality in Allegheny County is Pittsburgh, with over 183,000 people living within a half-mile of an active rail line. During any given workday, when individuals flock into the city, even more individuals would theoretically be at risk of an oil train disaster. Following Pittsburgh, Baldwin, West Mifflin, and Shaler all share similar numbers at risk, with Baldwin seeing the greatest percentage of its population at risk of the three. While Castle Shannon and Carnegie have lower populations than the other municipalities, a significant proportion of their residents (93-95%) are near rail lines.