Pushing for Upgrades to Rail Corridor
By Conor Greene
While they’re not exactly out to save the world, Glendale neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold have set forth on a wide ranging and ambitious plan to create a greener, cleaner neighborhood that provides a healthier and better quality of life for residents.
The women, who live in a well maintained block of 69th Street near Otto Road, presented their Glendale Green and Clean plan at last month’s Community Board 5 meeting. To outline their goals, they created a 60-page book highlighting areas in the community that need attention due to graffiti, illegal dumping or structural problems.
However, their main goal is to address issues in- volving the companies operating freight trains along the tracks running through Glendale, including CSX Transportation and New York and Atlantic Railway. “People come to us and ask what our real goal here is,” said Parisen, who has lived there for 23 years. “My main focus is the diesel emissions coming from the locomotives.” As a result of the companies’ operations, residents are subjected to choking fumes, deaf- ening noise and structural damage to their homes.
Parisen began addressing the issue five years ago and was able to push for city funds to create a vegetative barrier between the tracks and street. “It looks nice, but those same problems – noise, fumes – still exist,” she said. Now, the women have turned their attention to new technologies they say the rail companies should be implementing. “It’s a new day now,” said Arnold, noting that clean diesel technology is now available.
“This is the 21st century. When I first moved in here there wasn’t as much activity as there is today,” added Parisen, addressing critics who say she shouldn’t complain since the rail yard was there when she bought her house. Particularly frustrating, she said, was finding out that Anacostia and Pacific, which is New York and Atlantic’s parent company, provided $20 million for locomotive upgrades in California, while just $300,000 was provided to operations in New York.
“That was an eye-opener, seeing that it really is possible and that they’re doing this all over the country,” said Arnold, who moved to the block two years ago. “People around here take care of their property, yet they [the rail companies] are not good neighbors. It’s like they’re dumping on us. It’s disgusting.” She noted that the city is quick to ticket residents if trash blows onto their property, yet the companies seem operate freely. “If they kept their property the way we keep ours, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Aside from the noise and pollution problems, one of their major complaints is that the prop- erty is not maintained, meaning it is often overgrown with weeds, which makes the area ripe for illegal dumping. Evidence of that can be seen along the entire stretch of Otto Road adjacent to the tracks from 69th Place to Cypress Hills Street, which is marked by bags of construction debris and discarded piles of trash including electronics and toilets. “The unkempt properties lead to the dumping. It almost encourages it,” said Parisen.
Since presenting the plan to the community board, Parisen and Arnold have made some progress in getting elected officials on board and beginning to clean the area up. “We definitely have seen improvements since bringing this up in September,” said Parisen. Recently, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Glendale) and other officials toured the area with the women and vowed to look into legislation gov- erning the emissions of fumes from locomotives.
Another suggestion came from City Council candidate Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village), who promised to push the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct a study of operations in the corridor running through the area. “That’s the kind of big picture thinking that’s needed,” said Arnold. “It’s about awareness and engaging all the stakeholders, including those people who are using our neighborhood and not giving us anything back. The profits are pri- vate but the costs are public,” she added.
“This is a great neighborhood, but people realize they are not going to get anything unless they demand it and make their voices known,” said Arnold. “They are all very concerned about this. They know it’s a problem but they’ve been stonewalled... It isn’t just this neighborhood - they need to clean up the whole corridor. There is money for it, so why not get in line?”
“The most important thing for me, and it’s got to be done, is the locomotives need to be upgraded,” said Parisen. “To me, that is a quality of life issue, breathing in these fumes which have been proven to cause cancer... If you have people not saying anything, they will get away with it.”