My Community Op-eds from Local Civic Leaders

Where Have All The Freight Trains Gone?

To paraphrase that folk song from the 1960s:Where have all the freight trains gone? They’ve all gone to Glendale…”

In case you don’t know or never thought about it, anything that moves by rail to and from Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties (other than passengers) must come through the Fresh Pond/Fremont Yards off Otto Road in Glendale.

We used to have passenger service along the Montauk branch line, but several years ago, LIRR management closed down most stations west of Forest Hills. Last year, it halted passenger service from Jamaica to Sunnyside on the Montauk branch.

Growing up in Glendale, we lived with the railroad on a daily basis. Us kids knew it was time for dinner when the 5:20 p.m. train approached the Glendale station, blowing its required whistle. Yes, there was a Glendale station; it still exists on railroad maps at 73rd Street and Edsall Avenue.

The building now occupied by Mr. T Carting at Edsall Avenue and 73rd Street was a tavern and inn dating back to the 1800s. The building across the street from it was a hotel for many years.

Growing up with the railroad in the 1940s and 1950s was historic. The steam engines would take on water near 71st Place and Edsall Avenue. The crossing guards were located in their booths at 73rd Street and 88th Street. The railroad operated 24 hours a day except between 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 11:30 p.m. on Sundays.

During the war years, they hauled everything from aluminum sheets manufactured in Maspeth, to aircraft parts assembled in Glendale at the current Wilner site at 78-16 Cooper Ave., to planes, tanks and trucks manufactured on Long Island. They also ran troop trains from Camp Upton in Yaphank to the piers at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

The Fresh Pond/Fremont Yards are the only transfer point from Sunnyside on the west to Montauk on the east and, through the Bay Ridge line, to the float barges at the 69th Street Piers in Sunset Park. The yards also link up to the New York Connecting Spur across the East River through the Bronx to Selkirk, N.Y., where the trains cross the Hudson River and travel down the New Jersey side to connect to railroads south and west.

We have come a long way from serving the war effort and passengers to our current condition: primarily as the transfer point for municipal and solid waste and construction and demolition debris, with a sprinkling of freight.

Due to the single track condition out east (one track in each direction), commuter rail service takes precedent, and freight trains only operate along the Montauk line during off-peak hours. This created a burden on Glendale residents in that trains are made up and shipped out all night long-and 24/7 on weekends- producing noise and air pollution at excessive levels in Glendale and surrounding areas.

We need rail services which are more efficient in shipping freight and carrying passengers, but current equipment and operating procedures are problematic. Most engines transferring freight at Fresh Pond/Fremont are “zero level” emission compliant equipment. Train cars carrying a mix of regular trash and construction and demolition debris remain uncovered, spewing dust and odors along their way.

CURES (Civics United for Railroad and Environmental Solutions), a local community organization, is fighting these problems with some success.

We need freight rail reforms- upgraded engines to reduce emissions and noise; reasonable operating hours in and around Fresh Pond/Fremont Yards; covered cars for construction and demolition debris cars and mixed waste cars.

These are all doable and are currently in effect in the Midwest and California.

Editor’s note: Vincent Arcuri is chairperson of Community Board 5 and a long-time advocate in Glendale. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and not necessarily those of his organizations and the Times Newsweekly/Ridgewood Times.