Thursday, January 20, 2011

Relief From Diesel Soot in Glendale

By Eric Yun

Local residents surrounded by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the Long Island Expressway and Fresh Pond Rail Yard breathe in toxic air emissions daily. The cocktail of fumes increase residents’ risk for cancer and respiratory problems including asthma and emphysema. The number of children hospi- talized for asthma in Queens is more than triple the national average, according to the city’s Health Department.

Now, at least one form of emissions—diesel soot—could be decreased significantly.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) submitted two grant applications to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would replace antiquated diesel engines on trains operated by CSX, New York and Atlantic Railway and the Long Island Railroad with more efficient models.

Glendale resident Mary Parisen has been fighting to improve rail traffic and emissions for several years. She and Laura Zimmer started Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES) to lobby for changes in how rail companies operate locally and have been in constant contact with EDC and rail companies. They were both thrilled about the progress the grants showed.

“This is a significant step in the right direct,” said Parisen. “We have dreamed of and advocated for a US EPA grant application for new locomotives that will replace old, polluting 1978 LIRR equipment and reduce harmful diesel emissions in our neighborhood. Today we see this dream becoming reality.”

According to the submitted grant applications, repowering the locomotive fleet will reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 76 percent annually and particulate matter emissions by 62 percent annually.

All the major rail companies operating through Fresh Pond Rail Yard have come together to reduce emissions. CSX offered their support and matching funds of $750,000 to complete the project. Waste Management, which transports trash through the station, has pledged $1.4 million in support. New York and Atlantic also promised funding to help the project.

The grants also have strong political support. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman James Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee, and Councilman James Gennaro, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, sent a letter to the EPA support the grant.

“The repowered locomotives will leverage advanced and proven technologies to provide significant air quality improvements for the individuals who live and work in and around rail facilities in Kings, Queens and Bronx Counties,” the statement said.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler also wrote to support the program.

The unified approach displayed in this grant process was always a major goal of CURES. “In an era of scarcer resources, everyone has to work together on practical, focused planning and action that create a better life today and a sustainable future for the city, business and residents,” said Zimmer.

“CURES’ leaders have been advocating for public-private partnerships that pool their resources to make freight rail improvements and develop freight transportation alternatives,” Parisen said.

If the EPA approves the grant, the repowering would begin in May and take approximately two years to complete.

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