GETTING CHECK FOR ENGINE FIX
State Funds To Repower Diesel Locomotive
Hailed as the beginning of the long-anticipated upgrades to the diesel locomotive fleet used for freight operations at the Fresh Pond Railyard in Glendale, community activists celebrated the announcement of funding in the state budget agreed upon last week to replace one of the aging, polluting engines.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi stated in a press release issued on Monday, Apr. 1, the state will provide $3 million this year to the MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to make improvements to a locomotive classified rated “tier 0” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for emitting high amounts of fumes and noise while in operation.
The LIRR leases the diesel locomotives to the New York and Atlantic Railway, which operates the Fresh Pond Railyard. Additional funding would be sought in the coming years to upgrade other engines in the fleet, many of which are over 40 years old, the lawmaker noted.
Hevesi stated the revamped engine would meet “tier 3” EPA standards, reducing the amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by up to 76 percent over the next decade.
“This is the first win in what will be an ongoing fight to protect the health of countless families in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island,” Hevesi said in the statement. “With New York State’s recognition that outdated trains can be severely damaging to communities they pass through, we have taken the first step toward fixing this problem. Working together, elected officials and community activists secured 100 percent funding for the first year of this multiple stage project to make our railways meet modern environmental impact standards.”
The assemblyman credited the work of Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions (CURES)—a coalition of community groups seeking to eliminate quality of life problems experienced by residents living near freight rail lines in Queens—for “shining and keeping a bright light on this problem.” Hevesi added the group “has galvanized community support and made this solution a reality.”
CURES Co-Chairs Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold, in turn, applauded Hevesi’s efforts to secure the funding. In a phone interview with the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday, Apr. 2, they claimed the allocation of funding validated their claims that the locomotives at the Fresh Pond Railyard were hazardous to the health and well-being of residents.
“No longer are we at the stage of convincing people that the upgrade of locomotives has to be done,” Parisen said. “It’s no longer a matter of convincing people. The acknowledgment has been made that the locomotives need to be upgraded. It needs to be a priority.”
“Now it’s a matter of where are we going to get the funding from,” she added. “The roadblock is not there anymore.”
“People have been knocking on the door [of this issue], but Hevesi turned the key,” Arnold stated. “It’s a totally different conversation, a new era.”
In addition to working to make sure further upgrades are made to the diesel fleet, Arnold noted, CURES would increase its efforts to address other problems related to local freight rail traffic, including noise and open container cars carrying putrescible household waste and construction and demolition debris.
To that end, Parisen and Arnold are in talks with Rep. Grace Meng on finding federal measures to local freight rail woes since railroads are regulated by the federal government.
Meng met with members of CURES, Community Board 5 and other activists at the Fresh Pond Railyard last Wednesday, Mar. 27. She took a tour of the surrounding area and learned about the problems experienced by neighbors in recent years.
“Many ongoing concerns persist, including noise, air pollution and debris flying from freight cars,” Meng said in a statement sent to the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday. “I am currently looking carefully at the community's ideas and solutions."
“We’re very excited that she’s advocating on CURES behalf and understanding the problem, seeing how it affects the community,” Parisen told this newspaper. “We’re very excited that she’s taking this on and seeing this vision that CURES has.”