Take task with everything from horns to thorns
By Holly Tsang
Congressman Anthony Weiner and Forest Hills residents gathered for a town hall meeting at the West Side Tennis Club last Wednesday to discuss problems caused by the Long Island Rail Road with LIRR officials.
“We live in a shotgun marriage with the Long Island Rail Road,” said Weiner. “It is a relationship that is never harmonious, but it ebbs and flows between being a minor inconvenience to being literally a headache that keeps us up at night.”
The main complaint is about noise from train horns and air horns, which are sounded to alert track maintenance workers that a train is approaching.
LIRR chief transportation officer Rod Brooks explained that the Federal Railroad Association (FRA) sets a minimum standard for horn volume that train operators must comply with. He said the LIRR has applied twice for a waiver from the minimum requirement and been denied.
“The minimum standard that they set is no different for the BNSF Railroad out in Topeka, Kansas, than unfortunately it is for the Long Island Railroad here in Forest Hills,” said Brooks.
However, according to Brooks, about 24 percent of the new electric trains have been installed with muffler systems that reduce horn noise. By 2010, all electric trains will have them installed.
Weiner mentioned a decades-old concrete wall that had been in disrepair. Transportation officials removed the wall, which many believe acted as a concrete sound barrier between the community and the railroad. A new wall was called for, but LIRR maintained that the wall was likely not a sound wall and that it had never built sound walls.
Residents were also extremely upset about the LIRR Vegetation Management Program, which dispatched workers in summer 2007 to cut down trees and growth that were considered problematic. Trees had not been trimmed for years, resulting in unruly plants blocking signal connections and debris falling onto tracks, creating an acceleration/braking hazard to train operators.
“What we did was make sure that safety was the number one priority,” said Bob Brennan, LIRR director of government & community affairs.
Weiner became indignant with the LIRR’s refusal to acknowledge a mistake after neglecting the plant growth for years and allowing it to become a problem. He cited the example of a tree on his corner that was downhill from the tracks and yet was unnecessarily uprooted with chains.
Furthermore, in the public opinion, noise from the trains became a lot louder after the alleged natural sound barrier was removed.
“I don't think you want to take the posture that you did this right,” said Weiner. “I think what you meant to say is we're going to learn from that experience; we went overboard, we're sorry, we're going to try to get it better next time and we're going to try to ameliorate it today.’”
Plans were discussed to repopulate the barren sideline of the tracks with less offensive vegetation, though no definite agreement was reached. Brennan agreed to take suggestions back to the LIRR’s arborist and the town hall meeting ended on a somewhat conciliatory note.
"A side note about this is, and forgive me if I lost my temper a little bit, you have to lose the idea that because something has to be done, it has to be done without talking to people," said Weiner. “We are asking that when you sit down at your organization meetings, that you keep in a little corner of your minds the idea that for a lot of us, we're kind of victims of the thing, so we need that kind of accommodation."