FUMING OVER RAIL TROUBLE
Residents Want Action At CURES Meet
Plagued by noise and air pollution associated with increased freight rail traffic in Glendale and Middle Village in recent years, community activists called for litigation and demonstrations during a special town hall meeting of Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions (CURES) last Thursday night, Sept. 27, at St. Pancras Pfeifer Hall in Glendale.
About 25 individuals, including representatives of several local elected officials, turned out for the session hosted by CURES Co-Chairs Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold to update residents on the organization’s efforts to push railroad officials and the federal and state governments to remediate quality-of-life problems related to increased freight activity on area rail lines.
Formed in 2009 as a coalition of 14 civic associations, CURES has held a number of meetings with representatives of railroad operators and government agencies about the problems faced by Glendale and Middle Village residents living near the Fresh Pond Railyard and connecting rail lines. While CURES had been working in good faith to resolve the issues, Parisen stated, the railroad operators have been “playing a game of divide and conquer” with the community.
As an example, she pointed to the response by CSX and the New York andAtlantic Railway (NYA) to a law- suit filed by Christ the King Regional High School in 2008 over the storage of container cars filled with rotting household waste for extended periods on the line adjacent to the Middle Village campus. In settling the lawsuit, Parisen noted, the trains were moved away from the school but instead placed near homes in the vicinity of 69th Place and Juniper Boulevard South.
When residents there complained about loud early morning train activity, as well as air pollution from diesel fumes and rotting garbage in container cars, the railroad operators agreed to shift the trains further south next to the annex of P.S./I.S. 128.
“For a time, it seemed like it worked,” Parisen said. “But a few weeks later, the trains got longer.”
CURES has also been pushing agencies to stop the mixing of construction and demolition debris and putrescible household waste in open container cars shipped through the area. When parked on rail lines, residents and passersby reportedly experience foul odors emanating from the cars.
Even as CURES appeals for quieter trains, changes to operating hours and other remedies to the problems, she noted, projects are being planned in the area that would result in more freight traffic coming into Glendale and Middle Village. One such plan involves the potential expansion of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal after Suffolk County’s government agreed to sell its operators over 200 acres of adjoining public land.
Any freight traffic traveling to and from points in Long Island must come through the Fresh Pond Railyard, which Parisen noted encompasses a total of just 10 acres and 15 tracks. The railyard is at its busiest during overnight hours since one of its connecting lines—the LIRR’s Montauk branch—must be clear during the day to accommodate passenger train service.
“All the activity has to be done at night when we’re trying to sleep,” said Parisen, who lives near the railyard, adding that she sleeps with earplugs in order to not be disturbed by the loud movement of trains.
“If we think the activity on rail lines now is unmanageable, we’ve seen nothing yet,” she added. The CURES co-chair went on to note that “we’re advocating for [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] to get involved and investigate the whole freight rail system and realize the limitations.”
“How can they continue to keep opening up new rail terminals on Long Island” without resolving freight rail issues in Queens, Parisen questioned.
Time to howl ‘like wolves’
One Middle Village resident, Anthony Pedalino, expressed frustration that “the same 15 to 20 people” were the ones to show up at last Thursday’s meeting. He charged that the time had come for CURES to organize a large protest showing “the anger of the community,” adding that “unless people stand up ... nothing’s going to happen.”
“We’re going about it in a peaceful way like lambs, and we should be going after them like wolves,” Pedalino said. “It seems like everybody has done everything they can, but nothing has been done.”
Parisen echoed Pedalino’s frustration with the lack of turnout, adding that she was “the only one from my block” here.
The case for litigation
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), added that “you’re only as strong as your elected officials,” pointing out that most of them—state and local—have “no influence” on railroad operations since that falls under the purview of the federal government.
Moreover, Holden added that his civic group is exploring legal action against the railroad operators for violating provisions in the Clean Air Act. He noted that the organization is pursuing such action against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for changes to flight patterns that have left parts of Maspeth and Middle Village inundated with noise and air pollution from low-flying aircraft.
“The only alternative we have is to pull money together, get coordinated with other groups and file a lawsuit,” Holden said. “They’re putting more trains in and using rail lines day and night. People can’t live a life, and they can’t even survive and function.”
He observed that the lawsuit can “at least force” the federal government to fund remedial measures such as sound barriers along freight rail lines. Litigation would also compel agencies to stop the combination of putrescible waste with construction and demolition debris in container cars being shipped through the area, Holden added.
Despite the continued problems, Parisen noted, CURES has made an impact on addressing some issues. Working with the Department of Sanitation, Waste Management agreed to ship all household waste in sealed container cars from its Bushwick processing facility. CURES also secured grants for cleanups of property along rail lines in the area of Shaler Avenue in Ridgewood and Edsall Avenue in Glendale.
CURES is pressing the state, especially Governor Cuomo, to provide funding for the replacement of 11 “tier 0” diesel locomotives used at the Fresh Pond Railyard. Having the lowest environmental classification as indicated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the engines— which Parisen estimated to be over 40 years old—produce large amounts of noise and diesel emissions.
The coalition also announced that it would oppose the renewal of NYA’s license to operate at the Fresh Pond Railyard, which expires in 2017, if the company fails to accommodate the community with newer, fuel-efficient engines and other changes to its operations.