By Rebecca Henely
Elected officials and residents in Astoria said Amtrak’s current work on its train lines has thrown rocks and other debris onto the nearby streets, damaging cars and threatening to turn into what they believe could be a deadly situation.
“They can absolutely kill someone,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). “It is a miracle that no one has been hurt yet.”
Resident Loretta Csikortos, who lives near the train tracks on 23rd Street between Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue, said there has always been debris falling from the bridge, but since Labor Day the situation has gotten worse. The offices of Vallone and state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) have also received numerous resident complaints.
“The sky is literally falling on the heads of western Queens residents due to Amtrak’s complete disregard for the safety of people living near its tracks,” Gianaris said in a statement.
Amtrak said it is replacing the wood ties on all train tracks — both on the ground and on bridges — on a more than 3-mile stretch between 139th Street in the Bronx and 50th Street in Astoria, including the viaduct at 23rd Street, which has been completed since Sept. 18. The company is also evening out the ballast beneath the tracks in order to make the track alignment smoother, replacing failed joints between the track troughs, sealing the top side of the viaduct and installing grating over the walkways to prevent the rocks and other debris from hitting the streets.
But Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Gianaris, said that while the work may be intended to fix falling debris and rocks, debris is falling now. In the last few weeks, the office has received reports of car windows that have been smashed by the construction.
Csikortos said her son-in-law’s windshield was destroyed by a falling rock as was the back window of a contractor who was working on her house. She said her family no longer sits outside because of the rocks, and she fears for the students going to nearby St. John’s Prep High School.
Amtrak is “very lucky no car got hit when they were in motion,” she said.
Vallone said a similar problem happened in 2006, when Amtrak did some track work.
“It’s almost inconceivable that a few years later they could allow the rocks to fall on our heads again without any precautions,” Vallone said.
He said he would request that individuals at Amtrak be held criminally responsible if anyone is hurt.
Amtrak said it will place traffic cones and keep a watchman on the ground when work is going on as well as stay in communication with the Police Department.
“So it sounds like they’re making a little progress,” Murphy said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.