The advocacy group Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solution (CURES) rejected an apparent offer from the transportation company CSX to push back unpopular early-morning railroad operations in Middle Village.
In exchange, CSX hoped to change or kill several environmental reform bills in Albany that would impact the way transportation companies do business on the rails.
Mary Parisen, CURES' co-chair, said pushing a 5 a.m. interchange operation in Middle Village back one hour would let residents sleep longer. But she said the benefit doesn't outweigh environmental concerns that could be addressed if the dysfunctional state legislature takes action on five separate railroad bills sponsored by area lawmakers.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Parisen said. “Emphatically CURES said no deal.”
The proposed legislation would impose stricter fines on transportation and railroad companies for environmental violations, and mandate several other new changes, including how container cars are sealed as they travel through residential neighborhoods.
CSX had hoped to amend a bill that would require containers cars to be covered with a hard top instead of the net mesh that is currently used, said Ashley Pillsbury, the legislative director for Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who has introduced some of the legislation.
“They wanted us to separate the legislative concerns from the community concerns and deal with them separately and Assemblyman Hevesi refused” after consulting with CURES, Pillsbury said.
Laura Zimmer, a Middle Village resident working with the civic organization, said the decision was a no-brainer.
“I'm one of the folks who don't get to sleep at 5 o'clock in the morning,” said Zimmer, when CSX picks up railcars loaded with municipal solid waste and construction debris from New York & Atlantic (NY&A) Railway, for transportation out of state.
Zimmer and others say the operation is noisy, polluting, and the railcars foul-smelling, a claim NY&A has strenuously disputed. Sleeping in would be nice, Zimmer said, but she cares more about long-term environmental fixes to improve railroad efficiency.
“Losing sleep is bad,” Zimmer said, but “we're not willing to compromise our environment.”
Robert Sullivan, a CSX spokesperson, said the company is “disappointed that the proposed changes weren't accepted.” Nonetheless, he added, “we are going to continue as always to work with the Queens legislative delegation.”
Sullivan and Paul Victor, the president of NY&A, said the container-sealing bill is flawed because a hard top could be dangerous if it comes off while trains hurtle at high speed through residential zones.
“A hard cap or tarp from a safety standpoint is exactly what we don't want to do,” Victor said.
He said CSX and his company have already spent a combined $1 million to reduce the interchange operation from several hours to 25 minutes. “We've spent a lot of money to make the community happy,” Victor said.