Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Push for Upgrades Along Rail Corridors Gains Steam

By Conor Greene

An effort to increase the quality of life for residents living along rail corridors is gaining momentum, as civic associations from throughout the area are banding together to address the issue.

Neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold recently devised a plan entitled Glendale Clean and Green, which aims to address issues relating to the railroad yards and corridors that cut through the area. After presenting their plan to Community Board 5, the women found that other nearby communities are suffering the same types of problems.

To address these issues, which range from emissions coming from idling locomotives, along to noise and safety concerns, a group called Civics United for Railroad Solutions (CURES) was recently formed. It includes various civic groups such as Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, Glendale Property Owners Association, Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together, the Juniper Park Civic Association, Maspeth West End Block Association and Citizens for a Better Ridgewood.

After getting word of the effort out to the public, residents from Glendale and surrounding neighborhoods such as Middle Village began contacting the women to get involved, Parisen reported at last week’s Community Board 5 meeting. “They’re facing the same problems we’re facing in Glendale,” she said, noting that a petition effort is underway to pressure elected officials to taking action.

Arnold said that while there are a host of problems related to rail operations, the main focus continues to be on lowering the harmful emissions that spew from the locomotives. “That’s what all of us are breathing when you have diesel engines idling outside your house,” she said, adding that federal grant money is currently available to pay for the conversion of diesel engines. “It’s hard times, but we’re all breathing this air and it’s a problem,” she said.

Middle Village resident Laura Zimmer, who also lives along the rail corridor, said the problem has gotten much worse in recent years. Locomotives now idle in her residential area for as much as two hours at a time, preventing residents from enjoying backyards or hanging laundry outside. “It’s really disturbing... We’re all suf- fering from this,” she said.

Board District Manager Gary Giordano later credited Parisen and Arnold for doing a “yeoman’s job to bring all this to the attention of the elected officials” and said support on the federal level “will be very important.” He is hopeful officials “can come up with an avenue for fund- ing very quickly” to help alleviate the problems.

With state federal funding in mind, CURES recently sent a letter to officials regarding the MTA’s 2010-2014 capital budget and the state Department of Transportation’s 2010-2015 capital budget. The letter asks the agencies “to effect planning, infrastructure, and equipment upgrades in Queens that will better protect the public health and safety and quality of life in communities that presently are bearing serious environmental burdens.”

The letter argues that the “contract between the LIRR’s gleaming double decker passenger rail cars that pass through our neighborhoods and the degraded condition of the LIRR rail corridor, the rail yards, and the freight transportation in our neighborhoods make it crystal clear that our neighborhoods have been neglected and dumped on for too long.” To remedy this, the group wants “state and federal oversight and money coming in here now to upgrade the freight transportation system and environment in Queens.”

The issues CURES seeks to remedy include “unnecessarily high levels of diesel emissions due to old equipment, idling, lack of traffic capacity and lack of ‘last mile’ access,” exposure of residential areas to waste that is being stored in and transported in open cars instead of sealed intermodal containers, open access for vandals to the LIRR rail corridor in an area that includes hazardous chemicals and the Buckeye Pipeline, and storage and transportation of petroleum gas and other hazardous chemicals, which has led to two emergency evacuations of homes in the past three years.

Regarding the problem described by Zimmer, Giordano said he has had a “much more difficult relationship” with New York and Atlantic Railroad than most of the other agencies he deals with. Trains had been parked outside Christ the King High School until the school sued in federal court. Giordano recently contacted the agency to see about having idling trains moved from the residential area near 69th Place, to no avail. “All I wanted them to do was move the switching operation maybe 200 yards south,” he said.

As long as these issues continue to detract from the health and safety of local residents, Parisen vowed that CURES would push for solutions. “You are going to be hearing a lot more about this organization,” she promised.

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