By Conor Greene
Tired of constantly being subjected to blaring horns from trains passing by on the LIRR tracks behind his apartment, a Forest Hills resident has turned to the local community board for help.
Russ Gundlach, who lives in a fifth-floor unit in the Tennis View Apartments building along Burns Street, approached Community Board 6 last week with a petition from residents asking for help in convincing the Long Island Railroad to rebuild a wall that was demolished in October.
The problem began in October 2007 when the LIRR cut down a number of large, healthy trees, many at least 80 years old, that had served to block some of the noise coming from the tracks. The situation was exacerbated last September, when the railroad removed an eight-foot wall at the top of the embankment near the tracks along Burns Street. While the wall wasn’t built as a sound barrier, it served that purpose and its removal has made noise from the tracks much louder for nearby residents, said Gundlach.
“It’s very disconcerting to have an outside force or entity so close to your property that pretty much feels it can do whatever it wants without consulting the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re always reacting to what they do instead of giving our input… It’s devastating, the noise, vibrating and sparks.”
According to an LIRR spokesman, the wall along Burns Street was removed “after an inspection determined it was unsafe and could not be rebuilt.” The spokesman, Salvatore Arena, noted that while it isn’t clear why the wall was built in the first place, “it was never intended as a sound barrier and the LIRR has no plans to replace it.”
Regarding the cutting of trees, which helped block both noise from passing trains and the view of the tracks, Arena said the agency is “involved in ongoing discussions with the community about landscaping the area.” In the meantime, the LIRR “is doing everything possible to reduce the use of train horns and their decibel level without compromising safety.” Those efforts include a recent amendment to the LIRR’s operating rules to reduce horn use and installation of a muffling-type device on its M-7 trains.
Gundlach said that residents had been under the impression that the wall would be replaced, as the LIRR told them that work must be completed before the area is landscaped. However, they found out in October that the wall wouldn’t be replaced. “It’s been going on for over six months, and I cannot get used to this,” he said. “I certainly got used to the noise for the past nine years [before the wall was removed] and it didn’t bother me.”
Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn) said in a statement that a sound barrier should be installed along the tracks. “The LIRR has long been an uneasy neighbor to the residents of Forest Hills Gardens. We need a hearty sound barrier where the crumbling wall once stood.”
For Gundlach, the situation has left him unable to find peace and quiet in his own home. “I’m having a hard time justifying staying there, but the problem is I truly love my apartment,” said Gundlach, who dreamed of living in the Gardens while growing up in Woodside. “It was always like a fairytale land, always a place I wanted to live. The Gardens allowed me to buy something and be pretty much assured it wasn’t going to change.”
Noise from trains passing through Forest Hills has become a problem since the Long Island Railroad removed trees and a wall from an embankment along Burns Street, according to a resident. The Forum Newsgroup/photos courtesy of RUSS GUNDLACH