Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) is seeking $17 million in state funds to modernize ancient diesel locomotives that operate in Queens and throughout geographic Long Island.
The trains in question largely haul trash, and operate largely to or from the Fresh Pond rail terminal in Ridgewood, where trains at times are less than 50 feet from homes and restaurants as they haul loads of garbage.
To make matters worse, under current environmental and transportation law they are held by a grandfather clause to 1970s pollution standards as they spew fumes and exhaust between Manhattan and Montauk.
The engines, which are owned by the Long Island Rail Road and leased to the New York & Atlantic Railway, which operates at Fresh Pond, remain exempt from modern pollution standards unless they undergo major mechanical overhauls.
Hevesi, in a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) dated Jan. 25, has asked for the money in an effort to bring as many as 10 engines up to modern standards.
And he assembled a coalition of 41 other lawmakers from Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk counties who have co-signed the letter.
“We have Democrats, Republicans and independents,” said Alexander Schnell, a Hevesi spokesman in a telephone interview on Monday. They are actively looking for a Senate sponsor.
“These antiquated engines are in desperate need of an upgrade,” Hevesi wrote Silver in a letter obtained by the Queens Chronicle. “[R]esidents of our constituency in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties suffer from high levels of noxious gas emissions from these locomotives’ outdated technology.”
The city and private carters have been relying more heavily on rail to haul garbage in an attempt to reduce truck traffic, but residents in Glendale, Middle Village and Ridgewood, who have been complaining about the noise and pollution from the trains for years, have grown more frustrated as rail traffic has increased through their neighborhoods.
“The unintended consequence is that while we have made a sound first step in reducing emissions by decreasing truck traffic, the impact of allowing outdated diesel locomotive engines to travel through and idle in our constituency’s backyards has not been addressed,” Hevesi wrote.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 gave the city and CSX Railroad, which also operates out of Fresh Pond, a $2 million grant to reoutfit.
Signatories of the letter include Assembly members Earlene Hooper, Robert Sweeney and Joseph Lentol, deans of the Nassau, Suffolk and Brooklyn delegations, respectively; and 14 members from Queens including Hevesi.
Silver’s office did not respond in time for the Chronicle’s deadline on Wednesday.
Ed Cataldo, whose family has owned his Middle Village home for 50 years, lives 35 feet from the tracks just outside the rail yard.
He said Hevesi has been the most consistently responsive elected official in helping residents with the railroad. He said if successful, the cleaner diesels will be an improvement as far as it goes.
“And I’m grateful to Andrew Hevesi for trying,” Cataldo said. “But by itself, it just means that the railroad gets money to fix its engines, and the homeowners get little or nothing.”
He said homeowners still will have long, noisy trains running past their homes at all hours, some of them idling outside the yards with uncovered cars containing garbage, industrial waste and other materials.
“Come spring they’ll be shipping carloads of stone again,” he said. “Do you want to be breathing in all that dust?”
Cataldo said his neighbors are frustrated that community groups along the old Long Island Rail Road Rockaway branch line have gotten grants to study the possibility of converting it into a high line park.
“Why can’t our officials get money to study health problems, or to put a high line here?” he asked. “Unless homeowners can get noise barriers and covered rail cars with this, it could take 30 years to solve it. All it would mean is that the railroad gets new engines, and the homeowners get nothing.”