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Local News February 14, 2013  RSS feed

UP THE ANTE ON UPGRADE

Pol Seeks State Cash To Improve Diesel Trains
by Robert Pozarycki

Activists in Glendale and Middle Village who are campaigning for remedies to quality-of-life problems caused by freight rail traffic in the neighborhood applauded efforts by a local lawmaker to seek state funding for environmental and efficiency upgrades to diesel locomotives used on area tracks.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi announced on Monday, Feb. 11, that he has sent a formal request to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for $17 million to upgrade the engines owned by the Long Island Rail Road and leased to New York and Atlantic Railway (NYA) for its freight operations based at the Fresh Pond Railyard in Glendale.

For years, residents living near the railyard and freight rail lines leading to it have complained about heavy air and noise pollution emitted by the diesel engines in use, which are believed to be over 40 years old. Hevesi noted that the fleet has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being “tier 0,” the lowest possible grade, for producing high amounts of toxic fumes.

Should the funding request be approved, Hevesi indicated in a press release, upgrades will be made to elevate the locomotive fleet to the EPA’s “tier 3” standard, reducing overall emissions as well as diesel fuel consumption. The lawmaker stated that improvements to the fleet are essential to protecting local residents as freight rail operations are used more frequently to ship everything from goods to household waste into and out of the area.

“Transitioning from truck to rail for waste and freight transport is an admirable goal,” said Hevesi. “However, we need to ensure that while doing this, locomotives meet contemporary engine emissions standards that don’t cause severe environmental degradation for the communities that surround the rail lines.”

Hevesi added that surrounding communities near freight rail lines “deserve a rail transport system that is environmentally sound and not detrimental to the health of our constituents.”

Residents of Glendale and Middle Village and organizations working to address quality-of-life problems associated with freight rail traffic in both neighborhoods welcomed the funding request. CURES (Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions), a coalition of local community groups, publicly thanked Hevesi in a statement, noting that “the support this has gained from Assembly members in Suffolk, Nassau, Brooklyn and Queens demonstrates awareness of the health and quality of life impacts that old, noisy, high-polluting tier 0 locomotives have on our communities.”

“We want to see support for this in the Senate and from the governor,” the CURES statement concluded.

Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview on Tuesday, Feb. 12, that the funding request is “a good first step, but we need to take the next step.” In addition to upgrading the LIRR-owned locomotive fleet, he suggested that similar improvements be made to more powerful diesel engines used by other rail companies such as CSX or Providence-Worcester, which ship cars into and out of the Fresh Pond Railyard.

Since these companies are based in other states and whose operations are covered under the Interstate Commerce Clause, Arcuri noted, federal intervention may be needed.

Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano expressed similar sentiments to Arcuri in talking with the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday. He added that the upgrades to all engines used at the Fresh Pond Railyard and connecting tracks are imperative in protecting and enhancing the area’s quality of life.

“More and more goods, garbage and construction and demolition debris are being transported by rail, and there’s excessive pollution from the very old locomotives that are used to transport all that material,” he said. “We certainly look forward to the upgrades to these locomotives and appreciate Assemblyman Hevesi and other supporters of the need to upgrade the engines for getting the ball rolling.”

Two Middle Village residents who have been active in the campaign to improve communities impacted by freight rail traffic also praised the funding request—but called for additional action—in separate emails to this newspaper.

“This is a good starting point for discussion for relief if it is moved forward, but we need the whole package now,” said Edward Cataldo. He noted that sound barriers and caps on container cars to seal in the odors of rotting garbage are also essential.

“We need a comprehensive plan that is bold and one that addresses all points,” Cataldo added. “Unhealthy air is certainly a priority, but so is the noise. Speaking for all affected residents, we have lost countless hours of sleep due to train movements at all hours of the night and day.”

“Government needs to act responsibly in achieving its goals of greener environments, but not at the cost of a negative effect on a select group of people,” added Anthony Pedalino. “Railroads cannot operate in highly populated urban areas and ignore the effects it has on people’s lives. If they are to operate in these communities, they along with the government and the community, need to work out a plan to maintain a quality of living standard that we all deserve.”