By Conor Greene
A group of residents who say local rail operations are destroying their quality of life are hoping that the answer to their problems lies with legislation being considered in Albany. However, it appears that the federal Interstate Commerce Act will make it difficult to enact all of the reforms residents are pushing for.
At last week’s Juniper Park Civic Association meeting, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D- Forest Hills) updated residents and members of the group Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions on legislation he is drafting in hopes of addressing residents’ complaints regarding rail operations.
Members of CURES have been working for the past year to address issues including emissions, idling, noise and security along the railroad corridors that cut through Middle Village and Glendale. The group was co-founded by Glendale neighbors Mary Parisen and Mary Arnold, and has been meeting in recent months with elected officials and rail company executives to push reforms they say are needed.
Hevesi told the audience at last Thursday’s session that he is currently working on two pieces of legislation to address some of the concerns, and has three additional related bills coming down the line. “The emissions are a problem, but the biggest problem I’m hoping to address is the garbage trains,” said Hevesi, referring to train cars that pass through the area carrying stinking trash, which is often not secured properly.
However, the efforts to enact reforms on the state level have been hampered by the Interstate Commerce Act, which prevents local officials from putting restrictions on rail companies that operate across state lines. As a result, the rail companies “are not very cooperative” and feel like they “don’t have to listen to anyone,” said Hevesi. Hevesi says his bill circumvents the commerce act by dealing directly with the issue of waste, since transfer stations, such as the one in Maspeth, are located on state property.
The first law would require that smelly waste be transported in containers covered by a solid lid. That bill recently passed the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, paving the way for it to be acted on in the coming months. The second law would institute stiffer financial penalties for rail companies who violate that requirement, as the current fines are “very small,” according to Hevesi. Under his proposed law, the fines would double for subsequent violations, meaning companies could be fined up to $90,000.
“Right now it is a small hit, so they don’t care,” said Hevesi, adding that the rail lobbyist in Albany is opposing the measures and that every Republican on the committee voted against the legislation except for one GOP member. “The bottom line is, they’re gearing up for a fight… This will be a protracted fight, but we’re going to fight it.”
In the meantime, residents say they are still forced to endure unbearable noise from idling locomotives at all hours of the night and early morning. “I do not have an alarm clock because I do not need one,” said Anthony Pedalino of 69th Place, where trains idle for more than a half hour “every single weekday of the year.” As a result, many neighbors are attempting to sell their homes, something Pedalino said he is now considering. “It is a total sham, and I blame it mostly on the elected officials,” he said.
In response, Hevesi delivered some bad news: while he is attempting to tackle the issue of garbage trains through legislation, he is likely unable to resolve the issue of idling trains. “I want to be really candid – the idling I don’t think I can do much about.” As a result of the Interstate Commerce Act, those issues would have to be tackled in Congress, according to Hevesi. “I just want to be candid. It’s a very difficult issue.”
A representative from the city Department of Environ-that inspectors visited that area on a recent morning to measure the noise coming from the trains. He reported that the area was “very quiet” at 5 a.m., before any trains arrived. However, he described noise caused by a locomotive that arrived at 5:30 as “very, very uncomfortable” and “intolerable.”
Hevesi said the rail companies will likely claim those local standards don’t apply to their interstate operations. The DEP official said it appeared the problem could be alleviated by simply moving the trains away from the residential area, as they are currently parked right next to homes.
“We certainly deserve a good night’s sleep. Without that, there’s no quality of life,” said JPCA President Robert Holden, adding that the problem will only get worse if legislation Mayor Bloomberg is pushing is approved. Under that plan, trash from additional communities around the city would be transported through the Glendale-Middle Village area by rail, according to Holden.