Funding to reduce air pollution around the Fresh Pond Rail Yard has thus far made it through that grueling process known as the New York State budget negotiations.
The trick now for Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and like-minded legislators is to shepherd the $17 million from the Transportation Committee into the final version of a spending bill that could be sent to Gov. Cuomo’s desk by Saturday.
“This is one of the top priorities in Transportation,” Alexander Schnell, Hevesi’s chief of staff, said on March 13 at a meeting of Community Board 5.
A statement from Hevesi’s office on Tuesday said that a final budget bill could be voted on late this week, and that he is hopeful that continued negotiations to include the railroad funding are successful.
The diesels are owned by the Long Island Rail Road and are leased to the New York and Atlantic Railroad. Built in the 1970s, they are grandfathered to emission levels that are more than 40 years old.
They are held to “Tier 0” of federal pollution standards, while any diesel locomotive built or refurbished today would have to met Tier 3 standards.
Hevesi’s bill would pay to upgrade 10 of the engines over the next 10 years with what is called Genset repowering technology.
Those upgraded after stricter rules kick in in 2015 would be held to Tier 4 standards, accodring to the assemblyman’s office on Tuesday.
Residents in the neighborhoods of Glendale, Ridgewood and Middle Village have been complaining for several years about the round-the-clock noise generated by yard operations and the long freight trains that rumble through their neighborhoods.
Complaints have magnified in recent years as the city and its refuse companies have been relying more and more on rail to move garbage out of the state.
Some homes along the route are less than 50 feet from the tracks, with complaints about idling garbage trains increasing each summer.
“We hope it can move forward,” Tuesday’s statement said of the polluton-reducing grant, adding that if approved and signed by Cuomo, the first upgrade would begin this year.
The statement said the Assembly considers the issue more of a transportation matter than one of environmental protection. The statement did not speculate about how much support could be anticipated from those on the Environmental Conservation Committee.
Hevesi formally requested financial support in a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) dated Jan. 25.
The letter included 41 other Assembly members from Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Their support has the same basis as Hevesi’s, in that the trains travel throughout geographic Long Island, emitting fumes and pollutants wherever they are used.
Some residents here, while appreciative of Hevesi’s efforts to reduce their pollution, have said the true beneficiaries are the LIRR and the New York and Atlantic, which will be getting millions in free, taxpayer-funded equipment upgrades.