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Editorial September 20, 2012  RSS feed

EDITORIAL

Everything in life seems to hinge upon the annoyance factor and how much it affects day-to-day living.

If you live next door to a firehouse, the sound of the alarm going off in the middle of the night can be jarring—but the fact that the siren is a plea for help from someone in distress makes the noise understandable.

Living close to an airport creates a very high level of noise, but flight patterns change from time to time, and that results in a respite for those homeowners who live close to the runways.

But those who live next door to train tracks get little or no assistance with the noise. And to add insult to injury, if the trains moving along are filled with garbage, the smell greatly adds to the harmful effect.

Transporting garbage via railroad has become a big concern for the neighborhoods of this area. Back in 2006, the city adopted a long-term waste management plan to export all of the city’s garbage. The use of rail lines is one of the major ways used to send it packing under the plan.

As of now, as many as 40 container cars filled with putrescible solid waste are stored at a transfer station in Long Island City. Then the rail cars make their way to the 15-track Fresh Pond Railyard, which serves as the merging point between the Montauk and Bay Ridge branches of the LIRR and the CSX rail line, which runs north through Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst, Woodside and Astoria to the Hell Gate Bridge. The trains move up the CSX line as part of their journey to a processing facility in Virginia.

Since there is such a backup of garbage moving through the area, many cars sit for periods of time awaiting their turn to move. The smell would knock you over, especially during the summer.

Neighbors who live near the tracks are at their wit’s end from the massive increase in rail traffic and the noise and air pollution that came with it. Day and night, the trains come in and out. The engines sometimes idle for long periods, and combined with the rotting household waste in container cars, a perverse perfume of diesel fumes and bacteria hang over the area on a regular basis.

Even with the increase in rail traffic, more will likely come into our neck of the woods, now that the Suffolk County Legislature signed off on a plan to sell more than 230 acres of public land to the operators of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal. It is anticipated that the rail terminal will be expanded to become the largest in the country—and any train traveling to and from that terminal will pass through Glendale, Middle Village and other neighborhoods.

This deal was approved even after a group of Queens activists traveled out to Suffolk County and personally warned the legislature what they would be in for: more freight trains, more diesel fumes, more garbage, more noise, more problems for residents in both counties.

Freight rail has the benefit of taking trucks off the streets. However, the current plan is a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Truck congestion may be dropping, but now a new host of problems are being created for residents who happen to live near the tracks.

Is it too much to ask for the government and the railroad operators to accommodate these folks and give them a little peace of mind? Sound barriers, sealed container cars and fuel-efficient locomotives are solutions that may seem costly, but they are necessary to preserve communities affected by increased freight rail activity.