Photo via Facebook.com/CURES
A train car filled with trash in Middle Village in 2016.

For many summers, the heat has worsened the stench of trash-filled train cars passing through Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth, and a federal representative is finally trying to put a lid on the problem.

With new legislation introduced on Aug. 24, Congresswoman Grace Meng is aiming to require all rail cars that transport trash and debris to have covers on them. Her Train Coverings for Community Safety Act would direct the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to propose regulations on keeping the train cars covered at all times while in transit, including while being held, delayed or transferred.

“This is a simple bill and is the result of hearing from many constituents, who for too long, have been forced to endure the adverse effects of trains that transport waste and debris through their neighborhood,” Meng said. “Those who live near the tracks have also been subjected to trash-filled trains sitting idle for days near their homes. Placing covers on top of train cars – so that all waste is completely containerized – would help alleviate these many problems, and ensure that uncovered trains no longer affect the quality of life of area residents.”

The train cars in question are owned by the New York & Atlantic Railway (NYAR), which operates freight services on a branch of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) running through Queens. While the company transports a wide variety of goods, it also deals with commercial waste, municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris.

Among the complaints of uncovered, smelly train cars, there have also been accusations against NYAR for discrimination, mistreatment and endangerment of its employees this year. While the company vehemently denied the accusations, a number of local elected officials and activists have called for the LIRR to terminate its relationship with the freight service.

Mary Parisen-Lavelle, chair of the Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), continued the organization’s long-standing criticism of the local freight operations and praised Meng’s legislation in a statement of Aug. 27.

“We are so grateful that Congresswoman Grace Meng has taken action to protect our families from this filth!” Parisen-Lavelle said. “Her action is required because of NYSDEC’s dereliction of duty. I guess the carters on Long Island have the NYSDEC and the Governor completely cowed.”

Parisen-Lavelle explained that the new legislation would restore a level of power to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) that it delegated to the states with the Clean Railroads Act of 2008. The act gave individual states the authority to regulate waste operations on its railways, but according to Parisen-Lavelle, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has often elected to not use that authority.

The need for Meng’s bill is “proof that USDOT doesn’t have power over containing trash in or on a rail car,” Parisen-Lavelle added.

The legislation comes after the city announced in July its “Freight NYC” plan, which includes investing $35 million in improving its freight rail services in an effort to reduce truck traffic and pollution.

When reached for comment on Aug. 28, NYAR President James Bonner said that the company respects the Congresswoman’s concerns but would need more information to determine what kind of impact her legislation would have on the company.

“Our company follows all applicable laws and regulations and will continue to do so,” Bonner said. “As drafted, the proposed legislation could apply to many commodities, all of which are regulated as interstate commerce. NYA works with elected officials and community leaders to be a good neighbor.”

Bonner added that NYAR has a 24-hour community hotline to address concerns from the community and has hired an independent environmental expert to perform regular inspections of construction and demolition debris and waste shipments.  To date, the inspections have shown no issues, Bonner said.

The legislation has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for further review.


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Mary Parisen, Chair August 28, 2018 / 05:57PM
NYAR President James Bonner asserts that NYAR is a "good neighbor" that "...follows all applicable laws and regulations and will continue to do so." Why then on April 9, 2018, did the MTA write to Senator Joe Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller, and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, saying that if allegations now being tried in a court of law and investigated (at the request of the LIRR Committee and MTA Office of the Inspector General) by the NYS Department of Labor and other agencies are "proven to be true" they "call into question the business integrity of NYAR and whether it should be permitted to continue providing rail freight services over LIRR's network." Tell it to the judge, Mr. Bonner.

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