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Queens Chronicle

The push for freight train improvements

With cleaner engines on the way, pols and civics work on sound abatement

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:40 am, Thu Jun 13, 2013.

Elected officials and community groups are making moves to improve the quality of life for the homes that line MTA’s Long Island Rail Road freight train tracks.

The tracks that cut through parts of Brooklyn and Queens, used mostly for freight and garbage transportation from Long Island, have been the subject of controversy for some time now as residents complain of excessive noise during late hours and high diesel exhaust emitted from locomotives, which have been known to cause asthma, diabetes and other health problems.

Daily emails sent out by Middle Village residents to elected officials lay out train pass-through times and disturbances, emphasizing the need for a barrier or sound proofing system to ease the blaring noise of the trains.

“Pass through 1:20 a.m., south, loud, very loud idling just north of 69th Lane for several minutes, continued south, with cars in tow then stopped at 69th Place, very loud locomotives and loud, idling for several more minutes continued south followed by additional echoing of vibrating hollow cars and banging, squealing and screeching as it crossed the switch,” an email from last week said.

Other messages read similarly.

Though the trains continue to irritate the neighboring community, a glimmer of hope came when the state government approved funding, with the help of Assembly members Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) for a Tier-3 higher-efficiency, lower-pollution engine in March.

The process will still be slow moving as the funds are only to be used for one engine in 2014, a condition Hevesi said he is hoping to amend.

Mary Parisen of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions said that with the cleaner engine transition underway, they are now pushing for sound abatement for the new locomotives.

“We approached the MTA asking for sound dampeners to go along with the $3 million upgrade in locomotives,” she said.

But with an official MTA chairman still in limbo — previous Chairman Joe Lhota stepped down from the position to run for mayor, and nominee Thomas Prendergast has not yet been confirmed — getting funding has proven difficult.

Hevesi’s office said it is hoping to have a concrete answer in the upcoming weeks.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Bayside) is also working to improve conditions. Most recently, in a letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Appropriations, reps. Michael Simpson and James Moran, Meng seeks $30 million in funding under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

“This level of funding would help alleviate the significant unmet demand and would assist in upgrading inefficiencies across America’s transportation network,” the letter reads. “DERA grants an additional 50 percent of base funding for states that match each original dollar. This is why the DERA program has been, and should continue to be a wise federal investment.”

It is unclear whether the MTA will apply for DERA funding in this grant round — applications are due within the next two weeks.

“We don’t know for sure whether or not they are applying … through a U.S. [Environmental Protection Agency] Repowering grant, which might leverage the $3 million the NYS Legislature gave the MTA/LIRR for repowering one engine,” wrote CURES member Mary Arnold. “However, they have not taken the opportunity through many years of past federal and [New York State Energy Research and Development Assocation] grant rounds to apply for funding.”

Arnold went on to say that when the city Economic Development Commission asked the MTA to partner on a EPA grant from 2011 that was successful, the state agency refused.

“We know that because it is written on the grant,” Arnold said. “CURES does want to commend the LIRR/MTA now for accepting the responsibility for the repowering of these old freight engines though the state funding, starting with the three that are the switch engines in the yard, but we are also urging them to speed up the process by picking up additional federal and NYSERDA funding off the table.”

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